Long before the advent of league rugby Bath & Wasps played against each other on a home and away basis. Wasps were one of my favourite opposition teams in English Rugby. No matter what the result I always remember it being an entertaining match between the two sides with plenty of running rugby. Our final home game of the season last Saturday provided me with the opportunity to tell you a couple of stories regarding my encounters with Wasps and also to make a long overdue apology to three Wasps players.
Wasps were our opponents in Bath's third John Player Cup final in 1986. Having won in the previous two years, the players and supporters were getting used to the annual trip to Twickenham. Conversely, every other team in the competition was doubtless getting pretty 'hacked off.' Wasps were the only team left who could spoil our season and after about 15 minutes of the final, someone I can't remember from the opposition scored a try under our posts making the score Wasps 11 Bath 0. A few moments later someone I can't forget, Wasps full back Nick Stringer, had a simple conversion to make the score 13 – 0. As he smashed the ball between the posts he remained facing the Bath team as we made our way from the try line, "Now you know what it's like to lose," he shouted. Just in case there were a couple of Bath players who hadn't heard his words Roger Spurrell called everyone in and repeated them. Let's just say 65 minutes later with a score line Bath 25 – Wasps 17, we still didn't know what it was like to lose and the phrase was repeated by every Bath player to Nick Stringer for the next few hours (years).
A couple of seasons prior to the cup final we hosted Wasps on 'The Rec' and three Wasps players decided to travel down on the Friday to visit myself and the Bath open side flanker Simon Jones. For the record the three from Wasps were Cornishman - Iain Perkins, Kiwi - Mike Leggett and long established member of the upper class John Thompson.
They arrived at about 6.15pm, sadly too late for the last service of the day in the beautiful Bath Abbey, so to get over the disappointment the five of us decided to go for a drink in The Pulteney Arms. After several pints of diet coke (just in case Jack Rowell ever reads this) we were still feeling the disappointment so decided a change of venue might lift our spirits. We made our way to The Boater for a few more pints of dark stuff. By closing time we felt much better, so much better that our attendance at a party taking place in Kelston seemed like a remarkably good idea.
At 1.30am Simon Jones demonstrated his responsibility when he said to me, "Probably time for us to go Tricky, we've got a big match in a few hours." I agreed and said I would get the Wasps lads together. "No" said Simon, "It's time for us to leave, they can look after themselves." The excess of Diet Coke had clouded my judgement, I agreed it was probably best to leave them as they were obviously having a good time. The fact they had no idea where they were didn't even cross my mind! I then found out why we were leaving at that time, Simon had found a sober female, with a car, prepared to drive us back to Bath – result.
The following day by a process of elimination Iain Perkins became their spokesman, primarily because the other two refused to speak to us. Apparently they realised we were missing shortly before 3.00am and had no option but to walk the four or five miles back to Bath where they were staying in The Christopher Hotel, or would have been had a night-watchman been on duty. They wandered the streets of Bath before having a cooked breakfast at 6.30am in the market next to the Guildhall. They gained entry to their hotel sometime after 7.30am, a couple of hours prior to their team meeting – oops.
After all these years I apologise unreservedly to Iain, Mike and John for my lack of consideration regarding their welfare whilst on foreign soil - it was all Simon Jones's fault!
For the record, Simon Jones had an outstanding match, I scored two tries and Wasps won the match with a last minute Iain Perkins try. Who knows, if a few more Bath players had followed our shining example we may have won!