Bath are under-delivering but Flatman warns them not to wield the axe

Under-delivery is built into Bath’s DNA but former prop David Flatman warns the in-crisis club not to wield the axe yet despite Stuart Hooper’s side suffering their worst ever league defeat at home to Saracens last weekend

  • Bath lost 71-17 to Saracens at The Rec with a  record number of points conceded
  • It was their fourth consecutive Premiership loss – the first time in 20 years 
  • The squad held a crisis meeting on Tuesday but a regime change is not likely 
  • Steve Diamond reportedly was to be brought in but Stuart Hooper’s job is safe

Bath are in a ‘horrible place’, but when the squad held a crisis meeting on Tuesday, they were told that regime change is not on the cards. For now, anyway.

Nevertheless, the situation is critical. Last Sunday, Bath lost 71-17 against Saracens at the Rec. It was their worst ever league defeat at home and a record number of points conceded.

It was their fourth consecutive Premiership loss — the first time that has happened for 20 years — and a ninth defeat in their last 10 competitive fixtures. They are bottom of the table and this afternoon they go to champions Harlequins.

Bath suffered a record 71-17 league defeat against Saracens at The Rec last weekend

Sam Underhill (left) was in action as his side conceded a record number of points at home

Bath are a big name but after a run of defeats sit dead last in the Gallagher Premiership

While the coaches are understood to have accepted blame for not preparing the team well enough to face Saracens, they apparently retain the backing of owner Bruce Craig and the rest of the club hierarchy.

Despite reports that Steve Diamond was to be brought in, the former Sale director of rugby has not, as yet, been appointed in any capacity.

Stuart Hooper, in his third season as a rookie director of rugby, says he does not sense his job is on the line.

‘Bruce is hugely supportive,’ he said. ‘I know that we have to turn this around but it’s not driven by pressure from above. It’s not about, ‘You must win or else’. They come at it from an angle of wanting to support me and support this group through a difficult time.’

Steve Diamond (left) was reported to be brought in but Stuart Hooper’s (right) job remains safe

Former Bath prop David Flatman, now a leading TV pundit, says regime change is not the answer. Hooper is the eighth director of rugby since 2004 and Flatman argues the case for stability at this troubled time.

‘There are a number of people who want Hooper out, but a lot of the people saying ‘Hooper out’ will be the people who complained about Bath’s short-termism,’ he said. ‘What lots of Bath fans want is the formula that hasn’t worked — ‘Sack him and get another one in’.

‘What are the models that are working? Saracens and Exeter. There is a level of continuity there that Bath fans envy, yet they envy it and call for the director or rugby to be sacked. It’s contradictory.

‘Stuart Hooper, to declare an interest, is a great friend. But my honest opinion is that if they think he’s such a special individual, why sack him as someone who has learned all these brutal lessons? But there’s no quick fix for a club that has under-delivery built into its DNA.’

Bath have lost four consecutive Premiership games including a 20-19 defeat to Sale Sharks

Danny Cipriani (centre)  looks dejected during Bath’s record defeat to Saracens last week

Bath are a big name in English rugby, yet it is an age since they were a force.

Their last significant honour was a European Challenge Cup title in 2008. It was 10 years before that when they won the continent’s premier prize and 1996 when the domestic title was last brought to the Rec.

In the modern era, they have been a mid-table team more often than not — despite often having a formidable squad.

It is hard to envisage a sudden revival, as a tough fixture list includes trips to Premiership leaders Leicester and Irish giants Leinster. But Bath captain Charlie Ewels is desperate to be part of a backlash display today before he joins up with the England squad.

Lock Ewels said: ‘Of course it hurts, but you have to use that hurt to drive change. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me and I don’t feel sorry for myself. I want to use that (Saracens) result as fuel to make sure it never happens again.

Captain Charlie Ewels (centre) is desperate to be part of a backlash performance on Saturday 

‘I’ve been part of this club for a long time and we’ve been one of those yo-yo teams — consistently inconsistent.

‘I don’t just want to see a knee-jerk reaction this weekend, then the week later it’s like, ‘Well, we’ve done it now so we can play badly again’.

‘The last game should be a catalyst to spark something inside us. We can’t keep going up-down, up-down.’

There are so many problems to address in so many areas. The lack of a specialist defence coach has been exposed time and again, despite Hooper insisting that head coach Neal Hatley can cover it. Influential half-backs Ben Spencer and Danny Cipriani have missed early-season games.

On Saturday, Bath must try to stop Marcus Smith, but not so long ago they thought he might be joining them, until Paul Gustard left Quins and he opted to stay where he was.

Harlequin’s Marcus Smith (left), who almost ended up at The Rec, is Bath’s greatest threat 

Before that, Bath were linked with Springbok playmaker Handre Pollard, but he went to Montpellier instead. They have been hampered by endless delays to their proposed redevelopment of the Rec and by the often poor state of the pitch. And they have been hampered by a lack of identity.

Flatman highlighted that issue, saying: ‘Identity is management-speak bull***t until you haven’t got one. Bath don’t have an identity. They did have one: a strong front five in the post-lockdown season, but the day they lost to Exeter in the semi-final is the day that died.

‘Bath are getting worked over by front fives. You can have all the plans you want but if your front five don’t give you at least parity every week your plan is a waste of time. Bath are not intimidating anybody. Having an occasionally threatening attack isn’t enough.’

Harlequins, also on the rebound after losing at Sale last Friday, admit to being shocked by Bath’s no-show against Saracens.

Harlequins will also be looking to bounce back from defeat to Sale Sharks last Friday

Jerry Flannery, the champions’ lineout and defence coach, said: ‘The Saracens result would have rattled them. People will question your desire when you ship that many points. They’re in a horrible place after the weekend. It’s 100 per cent alarming. That was an awful hiding. You can’t gloss over it.

‘We’ve told the players to mentally put themselves in their position. If you conceded 70 points at home, you’d be so embarrassed. They can’t get fitter, improve their skills or change their game-plan, so all they can do is put in more effort. They need to have way more intent and aggression.

‘When you look at Bath, their facilities, player roster and quality coaches, it’s hard to figure out what’s missing. I don’t know what’s missing.’

Flannery’s view would be echoed by many who have been baffled by Bath’s prolonged era of underachievement.

On Saturday, they face a reckoning. Eventually, if there is no up-turn, there will be yet more damaging upheaval.

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