McGeechan not solely to blame for Bath mess
April 4, 2012
Sir Ian McGeechan has been unable to revitalise Bath © Getty Images
It looks like Sir Ian McGeechan's time is over at Bath, but I think his legacy can survive this one failure.
The Premiership is a hard environment now and Geech is the sort of guy that puts his arm around you rather than shouts. That approach doesn't seem to work when you have to deliver week on week. In terms of a British & Irish Lions tour - where you are dealing with world-class players - it works perfectly. All you need is that little bit of confidence and cohesion, and he is good at that.
I always thought that potentially it was not the right role for him, but I don't completely blame him for everything that has happened there. Bath are too soft. They've got this nice new training facility, which is wonderful, but they are not hard-nosed, either on or off the field. They are a good club with big plans, but they need to put the rugby first rather than the posh new mansion that they train in.
I said on Saturday, while covering their loss to Northampton, that if they continue in the manner they are at the moment then they won't be in the Premiership for much longer. I have seen them quite a few times this season and very rarely have they entertained or impressed me. As a rugby lover, I do not particularly like watching them play. There is no discernible style and they don't know exactly what they are meant to be doing on the field.
They have good some players there - the likes of Carl Fearns, Ryan Caldwell, Guy Mercer and Michael Claassens - but the current style is not working for another fine player - Matt Banahan. He is probably their main big strike runner, but only touched the ball once against the Saints in the wide channel. He did not touch it on a decoy line or at midfield first-receiver off the scrum in the first-half and it begs the question, why do they have people like him in the team if they aren't using them?
When it comes to Stephen Donald I just don't know what to say. He kicked the winning points to win the Rugby World Cup for the All Blacks but he looks like a lower league player playing in the Premiership. He's like a late 30s ex-international trying to make a living and doesn't look like a marquee star signing. He doesn't look like someone who can electrify the game at the drop of a hat. He looks like someone struggling for form, fitness and ability.
Now the question is, who is the man to sort out Bath? I've seen a few names linked with the post and Mike Catt would be a good acquisition - but I'm not sure whether he's ready to be a head coach just yet. He would do well for them. In my opinion the guy who would have been perfect for them is Dean Richards. They missed a trick in not acquiring Dean, who is off to Newcastle, as he would have brought success to the place.
In contrast to Bath, the story of the season is their west country rivals, Exeter. The great thing about the Chiefs is that they progressively get better. They've gone back to the old ethos of no stars and hard work and while there aren't any world-class names at Sandy Park, they have a team of some really, really good players, especially in the pack. They play a brand of rugby that has the basics first, which when you get it right, the other flash stuff can fall into place eventually. It's like a house - they've built the foundations and look sturdy enough to continue in the future.
While their neighbours up the A303 are struggling, the Chiefs are the only team who have surprised me in the way they have played this season. Their game against Gloucester was so impressive. Their offloading style was great, as was their commitment in defence and their power around the breakdown. They are such a strong side and are a challenge for anyone.
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Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby