TOM BRADSHAW: Bath Rugby could benefit from Six Nations comedown
Crushed and chastened, England’s internationals returned to their clubs on Monday. In this regard, perhaps it’s a good thing that Bath Rugby only had one player in Stuart Lancaster’s squad during the Six Nations.
Internationals will often downplay the effect of coming back from country to club. They’ll say it’s business as usual and that it’s a seamless transition. And while that’s no doubt true for some, it’s by no means the case for all.
Lewis Moody was frank about this issue in his autobiography. During his first season at Bath, Moody admits he found it difficult to get sufficiently fired up for games – even Heineken Cup clashes – after he returned from skippering England in the Autumn Internationals. In the end, he began using psychological techniques in order to get himself in the right place mentally, including clasping a relative’s First World War medal in the changing room before games.
Some sports fans are occasionally incredulous at the suggestion that players can sometimes be off the boil mentally. But it’s a fact of life. If you work in an office of 23 people, on any given day it’s more than likely that at least one won’t be fully switched on, for whatever reason. Why should it be any different for a professional rugby squad?
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I remember former Bath head coach Steve Meehan making this point in slightly spiky fashion during a post-match press conference four seasons ago.
Meehan declared that the effort and application of his players during the game had been superb, despite the home loss. “But shouldn’t that be an absolute given?” inquired one journalist. “Are you saying that there’s never a day in your working life when you’re never below par?” shot back Meehan.
For those English players returning to their clubs from the wreckage of the Six Nations campaign, the comedown will have been tricky to manage. And Bath will be hoping that those teams which provided the bulk of England’s squad – Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens – suffer a Six Nations hangover, not least because they have to play all three sides in what is a forbidding Premiership run-in.
Those titans of the table will be Bath’s opposition for the concluding three weeks of the Premiership. Prior to them, Bath face Sale tomorrow and London Welsh next week.
Bath are currently four points shy of sixth-placed London Wasps and seven adrift of fourth-placed Northampton. If Heineken Cup qualification is to be a realistic possibility, then back-to-back wins are surely needed before the triple-whammy of Quins-Tigers-Sarries.
It’s been a week of good news for Bath with Jonathan Joseph signing and a flurry of key re-signings. But a bad result in Manchester tomorrow would not only sour the week but deliver a hammer-blow to Bath’s season.