3 History of Bath Rugby - 1965 to 2015

by Mike Curling
The Recreation Ground

History of Bath Rugby – 1965 to 2015

Successes, Conflict and Professionalism

The club entered the 1970’s with optimism but sadly the early years were not as successful as hoped though some notable scalps were taken against Welsh opposition.

With the arrival of a young John Horton (to take up a teaching position at Bath Technical College) and young players like David Gay, John Palmer, Mike Beese and a more senior Jim Waterman things were set to improve; but the club still had to achieve more to become the dominant force in English rugby.

Whilst there these new arrivals there was also one significant retirement when Phil Hall (a highly competitive back row forward)played his 580th game for the club on May Day 1976 against Nottingham. Surely this record will never now be bettered.It would be the late 70’s before things would change though it so nearly didn’t happen.

Jack Rowell was an Oxford graduate who had captained the Gosforth side and subsequently coached it to success in the National Knockout Cup Finals in the 1975-1976 and 1976-1977 seasons. He had decided to make a move to the South West in the course of his employment with Lucas Food Ingredients.

Jack wrote to the club’s Hon Secretary Jack Simpkins indicating that he was coming to work in Bristol (but live in Bath); that he had been both a captain and coach of Gosforth and letting it be known that he’d be keen to join the club “if there was an opportunity”.

He received a reply simply stating” Dear Mr Rowell “Thank you for your letter……but we have enough coaches at Bath at the moment”.

Having had approaches from Bristol and Clifton Jack coached Clifton during the 1977-78 season.

Eventually “the penny dropped” as to just who Jack Rowell was and a suitably chastened Jack Simpkins ‘phoned and spoke with Mrs Rowell apologising for not realising who Jack was and letting it be known that “we’d like him to become our coach”

Fortunately Jack was convinced to join the club and the 1978-79 season was to begin a 30 year association with the club which would bring with it enormous success and build the club into one of the leading clubs in world rugby. In his first season the club’s playing record was Played 44 Won 31 Lost 10 Drawn 3 under the captaincy of Mike Beese. As will be seen the then 1st XV were playing approximately twice the number of games played by today’s professional players and holding down day jobs as well!

Jack Rowell was assisted at various times by Dave Robson and Tom Hudson. Robson was a Chartered Accountant in the city (and a past player) who was responsible for bringing a number of players to the club through his many contacts whilst Hudson was a former Olympic athlete who had assisted Carwyn James in preparing the Llanelli team that famously beat the All Blacks in the 1972-73 season. He was responsible for making Bath probably the fittest team in England which saw them overrun opponents especially in the last 20 minutes of a match.

In subsequent seasons Brian Ashton (later to become England’s coach) would assist Jack. Like Jack, Brian was an innovative coach who favoured fast “running rugby” encouraging players to look to open up the opponent’s defence and to create gaps so that the ball carrier or a supporting player could go forward.

The 1980’s could undoubtedly be called the “Winning Decade” for Bath overshadowed all other English clubs winning the John Player Cup on four successive seasons from 1983-84 season to (and including) the 1986-87 season

The season 1987-88 saw the introduction of league s with the club playing in the Courage Clubs Championship. Bath finished fourth in the inaugural season. Stung by this “failure” the club was to complete its first double in the 1988-89 season winning the League and the now Pilkington Cup.

Further successes would follow in the both the league and cup. Bath won the Courage Clubs Championship titles in 1990-91, 1991-92 and 1992-93 as well as winning the Pilkington Cup in 1989-90 and 1991-92.

When Bath defeated Gloucester 46pts to 6pts in the1989-90 Pilkington Cup Final Jack Rowell would describe this victory as “the best performance he had seen from Bath in his time with them” Truly it could be said that this was “The Team that Jack Built”

If the 1980’s were the “Winning Decade” then the 1993-94 season would become known as the “Triple Triumph” because the club won the Courage League Division 1 the Pilkington Cup and the Middlesex Sevens. However they also won the Worthington Welsh Sevens so perhaps it would be more appropriate for the season to have been known as the Quadruple Triumph”

Jack would leave the club in 1994 to take up the England Head Coach/Team Manager role and pass the coaching baton to Brian Ashton.

On the 26th August 1995 the International Rugby Board made the momentous (though not entirely unexpected) decision to repeal the amateur principles on which the game had been founded so that henceforth it should become “open”.   The RFU declared a moratorium until the end of the 1995-96 season so as to give time to consider and understand all the ramifications of the decision. But there was no going back. Thereafter the doors were opened for the acquisition of clubs by wealthy individuals and Newcastle lead the way when Sir John Hall acquired the Gosforth Club and renamed it Newcastle. Bath in the meantime was still being run by its 27 man committee.

Before long the  Bath club was acquired by Andrew Brownsword (a multi-millionaire who owned Hallmark a greetings card company) who did not wish to have a “hands on” role in the club and so Bath’s own John Hall became Director of Rugby an unpaid position at a time when other clubs had fully embraced professionalism.  So the club was much better prepared for the professional game on the pitch than in its administration and this, in the end, lead to the departure of both Brian Ashton and John Hall in rather acrimonious circumstances.

Taking advantage of an “open” game, at the end of May 1996, Bath played a Wigan Rugby League side home and away each side winning convincingly under its own code.

So it was that the 1997-98 season saw the full introduction of professionalism and Bath’s greatest achievement was when they lifted the Heineken Cup having beat Brive at the Stade Lescure in Bordeaux 19pts to 18pts the normally ever reliable Alain Penaud failing to kick a last minute penalty from in front the posts.

1997 saw the formation of the Bath Rugby Supporters Club.

The club entered the new millennium with a number of retirements and other departures but also the arrival of a number of new players. One amongst these was Danny Grewcock who was to become a giant in Bath’s second row and its main enforcer when occasion required.

With the acquisition of the club by Bruce Craig the infrastructure. of the club was to take giant leaps forward with the provision of world-class training and medical facilities at Farleigh House in Farleigh Hungerford. A new coaching team was recruited with a number of hugely talented players which hopefully will lead to more major successes for the club.  The improvements at the Rec are continuing and it is to be hoped that the club is successful in being able to make the exciting changes to the ground that they wish for the benefit of spectators.

Mike Curling

Further suggested reading:

The History of the Rugby Football Union by O.L.Owen

Bath Football Club 1865-1965 by W.S.Bascombe The Mendip Press Bath (Out of print)

Gladiators of a Roman City by Harry Barstow Bath Football Club and Corsham Publishing Co.

Bath-Ace of Clubs by Brian Jones The Breedon Books Publishing Co. Derby.

Before the Lemons by Kevin Coughlan, Peter Hall and Colin Gale Tempus Publishing Ltd. Stroud

After the Lemons by the same authors Montroy Media Ltd Henleaze Bristol

Champions in Conflict by Dick Underwood Robson Books Ltd. London

Triple Triumph The Official Year Book Season 1993-94 by Ken Johnstone Editor and Publisher.

This page was added on 23/06/2015.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *