At the top of the domestic game, margins between victory and defeat are often very slim. One momentary loss of concentration and a match can easily be lost. Thank goodness this was not the case in my day, when I would often spend 50% of any game talking to the crowd and most of the remaining 50% talking to teammates about pressing non rugby conundrums, such as, 'is The Boater actually exempt from licensing laws?'
It's easy to view a particular period of our history through 'rose tinted' spectacles and assume we won everything. This was not the case; like any team we went through bad periods and with the benefit of hindsight I can easily pick out the moments which changed our fortunes. Occasionally it would be an incident during a match, a massive tackle or spectacular try; sometimes the training ground was the venue for the necessary spark to ignite the team.
One such occasion, occurred after a match against Aberavon in the early 80's. Every trip 'over the bridge' to Wales provided a big challenge. We were however expected to win this fixture; unfortunately we didn't 'click' and suffered a reasonably heavy and very embarrassing defeat. Once all the players had gathered in the changing room, the door was closed and Jack Rowell (coach) unleashed both barrels. Believe me he was not happy, rarely had I seen Jack so angry. Individually and collectively he launched into the Bath team. I adopted my usual pose in circumstances like this and kept my head down, staring at the floor two feet in front of me waiting for the storm to abate. After several minutes Jack finally 'blew himself out' and asked if anyone had any observations or anything to add. In my opinion this was the time to remain looking sad and keep your mouth shut. Not so our second row Nigel Gaymond, who put his hand up as if still at school. Jack pointed and said, "Go on."
Nigel's input consisted of the following short sentence, "I couldn't help but notice Jack; there were an awful lot of weeds on the pitch." I burst out laughing which triggered the laughter of many others. Jack meanwhile turned a remarkable shade of red and left. With so much tension in the room, Nigel's comment released it in an instant; he was a teammate for several years and to this day I have no idea if he made the comment deliberately or whether it was his primary observation following 80 minutes of rugby.
On our way back to Bath, the bus left the M4 at Chepstow and stopped outside a pub. I recall Jack saying he didn't know who was going to pay (we all knew it wouldn't be him) but the drinks were free for the duration of the stop.
We had no success to celebrate and to be honest the defeat wasn't mentioned during the next few hours as we drank free beer and lager (rough cider for 'Cooch' & diet coke for Richard Hill). My recollection is slightly hazy for obvious reasons, but I do remember a huge amount of laughter and mickey taking. We arrived at The Rec shortly after midnight, just in time for many of us to go to the Island Club for additional post-match hydration.
Training on the Monday was interspersed with numerous comments and recollections from an 'epic' Saturday night. The team then went on an extended run of victories; in fact we may well have remained undefeated from mid-February to the end of the season and the following year we won the John Player Cup for the first time. Was it all down to a comment from Nigel Gaymond and a few free beers? I doubt it. I do however think they were the catalyst. Subconsciously or otherwise they assisted individual team members in relating to each other in a way they hadn't before – Team Bonding is the current phrase I believe.