Van Graan reveals the 'stitch up' that helped Bath beat Munster
REACTION: It’s amazing what a bit of canny housekeeping can do.
For some months Bath hadn’t been happy with the state of their pitch at The Rec. Too much summer rain was an issue. So too being so close to the river.
What to do? They obviously couldn’t control the weather, and neither could they do anything about the Avon that flows by adjacent to the West Stand.
But they needed something to get done so that they could scrummage, especially after a collapse at a last-minute, last October scrum handed Leicester their game-winning kick.
What’s the point in having international standard piano shifters such as Beno Obano, Will Stuart and Thomas du Toit on the payroll if they can’t trust where they put their feet when at work on the shop floor?
Eventually, it came to a head and coach Johann van Graan was handed an early Christmas present, club owner Bruce Craig agreeing to foot the bill to have the pitch stitched to dry it out and firm it up.
The result? Bath won their first Champions Cup match since January 2018 courtesy of a dominant second-half display where the World Cup-winning loosehead Steven Kitshoff was particularly left tied up in knots at the set-piece.
Just the tonic to transform an 8-14 interval deficit into a chest-puffing 37-14 triumph over Ulster.
“The changes we made to the pitch two weeks ago have done wonders,” beamed van Graan in the aftermath of Bath’s five-tries-to-two win.
“We stitched the pitch. We knew after the Leicester we needed to do something, so very firm pitch. It gave us a platform to scrum from.”
How did the emergency shakedown happen? “Very thankful to our owner Bruce Craig and the board. I went to them after a few weeks and said we needed to change and our board has been phenomenal in supporting me and the team.
“The players were so thankful and you can see what the change, the stitching of the pitch, did. We are a very unique club next to the river. It has got its challenges and there have been thousands of years of things happening in the city which is underneath the pitch and I give great credit to everybody at the club.
“We needed to change, we made a change and we saw some real positive results out of that, so very thankful to Bruce and the boys. We got a company in. It took about 10 days to stitch the whole pitch.
“I’m not an expert on any grass at all, I’m not a gardener. It’s a Desso pitch now in terms of doing that short-term work. It tightens the whole pitch. It was so difficult to play at the start of the season. It was very difficult in the summer, with a lot more rain than anticipated. It was extremely slippery.
“We lost a game here when a call went against us against Leicester from a slip. That happens in rugby, but it [the pitch] helps when we decide that we are going to recruit and retain certain players. We have got a pack that can dominate and we have got a back line that showed on penalty advantage we punish the opposition.”
This punishment, though, had its roots in the front row where the statement-making props – the man of the match Obano, the man on the mission Stuart and the try-scoring sub du Toit – didn’t hold back.
“The score was 18-14 and the easy thing was to take the three points but we kept applying pressure and the scrum is not only a front row thing, they have got to make the hit first up but it’s the whole eight things and I though every forward got stuck into the scrum.