“I landed with a bang really, right in the purple patch of the club and had five brilliant years winning trophies.”
One of the most celebrated Bath Rugby players amidst a golden generation, decorated centre Phil de Glanville gives us his opinion on past, present and future at The Rec.
Rose-tinted glasses are a fine accessory for any rugby supporter. Each club has its own particular brand to don at the appropriate moment and bask in the rays of glories past.
Those of a Bath Rugby persuasion have a veritable hoard of treasured memories from the 1990s to cherish, and central - no pun intended - to those heady days is celebrated midfield architect Phil de Glanville.
Fittingly for what would be a rather expensive pair of the said spectacular specs, ’Hollywood’ had an illustrious twelve-year stint in the Blue, Black and White. He saw a remarkable haul of silverware adorn the trophy cabinet, and Bath claim the status of the best team in the land, and ultimately Europe so famously in 1998.
The Oxford Blue and 38-times capped England man captained the side to a League and Cup double in 1996, making 189 appearances and scoring 53 tries in the process, and captained his country the same year.
Phil says that his career coincided with the glory days, in typically humble fashion, and that fond memories abound of the Club, his team mates, and the success they enjoyed.
“Where to start? I have so many special memories. From when I started in 1990 through to 1995, every year we either won the double, or we won one of the Cup or the League. I landed with a bang really, right in the purple patch of the Club and had five brilliant years winning trophies,” he says.
Let’s take a moment then, to reach into the jacket pocket and pull out the glasses case. On they go.
Having won two league titles between 1989 and 1991, Bath took the double in 1991/2, despite a single point deduction for the fielding of the sadly ineligible Laurie Heatherley, who actually scored a try in the opening day defeat of London Irish. Points difference secured the title from Orrell, and a 15-12 victory over Harlequins saw the Pilkington Cup come up the M4 to Somerset. A hat-trick of league Championships was secured in 1992/3, again via points difference.
The Grand Slam came in the following season, 1993/4, to include the league, cup and the Middlesex Sevens titles, one Mike Catt making a name for himself in the cup final against Leicester.
A ninth cup title secured against Wasps, featuring a brace from Martin Haag, was reward for the efforts in 1994/5, and the following season saw the last pieces of domestic silverware for the Club with another league and cup double.
The final day 38-38 home draw with Sale was a real slip, but thankfully an errant penalty from Tigers elsewhere saw the Rec erupt! Tigers were again worsted in injury time in the Pilkington Cup final with a penalty try, and Jon Callard’s conversion sealed the deal.
For his part, Phil says that the Parc Lescure in Bordeaux saw what he considers to be the finest hour, in the Callard-inspired 19-18 win over Brive to bring the European Cup to England for the very first time.
“Some brilliant memories,” he smiles. “The highlight for me was probably 1998 and winning the European Cup.”
The golden generation of players who propelled Bath to such heights is well-documented. Having listed the triumphs above, to list but a few of those men would do a disservice to any omissions. Phil says there was one man in particular, the legendary Jeremy Guscott, his midfield partner in crime, with whom he formed a compelling playing bond. He takes up the tale.
“I ended up partnering Jerry for the best part of five or six years. Bizarrely when Mike Catt played centre, Stuart Barnes was 10 in 1994 I think, and Jerry was injured, he was outstanding at centre as well. But Jerry week in, week out, was outstanding.
“It’s the same with England at the moment. You aren’t able to develop that understanding, the little subliminal stuff you can do when you play with each other every week. I don’t really have anyone else to compare with, because Jerry was who I played with most of the time.
“I think we worked pretty well as a partnership!”
On the Club website, there is an interesting phrase referring to the period. It described the squad as “Arguably the most ‘professional amateur club side in English history.” Phil elaborates, saying,
“You can only make that statement if you can compare across the clubs. We only knew what was going on at Bath. If you mean attention to detail, meticulous planning and preparation, then all of those things were going on at Bath.
“There was a good succession of planning with Dave Robson and Jack Rowell making sure that any emerging gaps in the squad were plugged with new players very effectively. It seamlessly rolled on.”
Phil says the culture at the club bred the team for success. A formidable concoction of strong personalities, determination and raw talent saw Bath Rugby sup at the top table for a sustained period. He continues,
“If you look across that period, you had a large number of players across a different age group who had a ten to twelve year period of sustained success. We had top coaches there. Brian Ashton was, or is, one of the best coaches, certainly for backs, but also generally in rugby. He is certainly the best coach I ever had.
“You’ve got the perfect scenario of an eclectic bunch of players with great coaching. It was a very tough culture. they didn’t suffer fools gladly. It was sink or swim in terms of your character and standing up for yourself. That mix of things went into that period of sustained success.
“And we had a bit of luck! There were some games we had no right to win, but we did!”
Leadership too played its part and Phil says that Bath were blessed with leaders all over the field which saw them prevail. He goes on,
“I think you had almost everyone to be honest! Everyone had an input to make, and experience. There were some that led more than others, but everyone had an input to make and people would always chip in.
“That gave you confidence just looking around the squad, and tactically in particular. If we had to change things, we would change things.
“Of course in those days it was all player-led, there were no messages coming on from the side. You had to think on your feet, and change things in the heat of battle. They were a pretty bright, intelligent and articulate bunch. Well, maybe I won’t include Coochie (Gareth Chilcott) in that!
“It was an intelligent bunch of people who were certainly great rugby players.”
As for the prospects for the current crop, Phil says consistency is key. Bath have hit stellar heights in certain performances recently, but have come up short at the final hurdle. He is candid about what needs to happen for the club to once more return some silverware to Somerset, saying,
“The games at the end of last year, the Leicester game (semi-final) was just stunning. They not only need to get back to that, they need to push it on a bit to the next level. That’s the challenge for Mike and the team, to push it onwards and upwards.”
“It’s a question of whether they can kick on from that. In a World Cup year you have a huge difficulty in terms of managing those World Cup players. They’ve been in a completely different world for three or four months at least. Sometimes it’s not simply a case of them slotting back in to the club team, they need time to reintegrate, to get back into the way Bath play.
“It can be very disruptive in a World Cup year and it’s not the assumption to make that everyone is going to slot straight back in smoothly.”
One young centre with a great opportunity is Ollie Devoto, who has certainly caught the eye of the great man. Phil opines in closing that Ollie has the world at his feet and can progress to the very top level in years to come, despite the difficulties of life in the modern game in the torrid, space-starved pastures of the midfield. He concludes,
“Because the defences are so much better organised and the chances of scoring from a first phase are really slim these days, you are having to go through multiple phases before you score. You’ve got to be so much more organised and be so much more aware for multiple phases.
“I like Ollie Devoto. I think he is an outstanding player. He’s bright, intelligent. I’m looking forward to seeing him play for England one day, I think he’s got all the potential to do so.”
Interview by Patrick J.Lennon
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