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Jeremy Guscott: I’m on a bus to the final with childhood friends – the Bath buzz is back

Jeremy Guscott
Jeremy Guscott is loving Bath's revival and is heading to Twickenham on Saturday with some boyhood friends in the hope of a first title for 28 years - David Rogers/Allsport

On his coach from Bath to Twickenham on Saturday for the Premiership final against Northampton Saints, Jeremy Guscott says he will be accompanied by five close friends, some of whom he has played rugby with since the age of 11.

“We all played for Bath at different levels, three of us played Bath Colts together, and some of us for the thirds, seconds and some first-team rugby,” he says. “It is going to be great, win or lose, it is going to be a good time.”

The opportunity to indulge in nostalgia during the course of the three-hour drive seems appropriate.

It may be 24 years since the curtain fell on Guscott’s glittering Bath career, a career in which he won 65 caps for England and played in eight Tests for the British and Irish Lions across three tours. Yet the manner of Bath’s passage to the Premiership final this season, their first since 2015, has turned back the years for the 58-year-old, who won six Premiership titles and one Heineken Cup having made his debut in 1984.

After many dark days – you have to go back to Guscott’s side in 1996 for the club’s last league title – the player whose grace earned him the nickname ‘Prince of Centres’, welcomes the fact that everyone in the city is talking about rugby again.

Guscott is a fan of the work undertaken since the arrival of Johann van Graan at the start of last season, and even without the insight of the coaching team’s data, it is their intent and resilience that has impressed him.

The sleeping giant, it appears, is stirring.

Lawes and Guscott
Guscott met Saints' Courtney Lawes, who is playing his final game for Northampton on Saturday, at last week's RPA awards - Tom Dulat/Getty Images

“It is incredibly exciting at the moment, there is a real buzz around,” he adds. “It is the topic of all conversations: ‘How do you think it will go? Are you going? Have you got a ticket?  Can you get me one?’

“The Bath crowd has been incredibly loyal and supportive during the fallow years and after the first half a dozen games this season the feeling was: ‘Wow, this team has really turned it around and is exciting.’

“And it has been exciting. I have probably been to watch Bath this season more times than at any time in the last 15 years. It reminds me of the rugby we played as a kid when we would say: ‘Just give me the ball and let’s go.’ At mini rugby and juniors, you played with freedom and that freedom brings enjoyment and the sense that you have given everything you can.”

One is tempted to ponder how Guscott would slot into a backline outside the mercurial genius of Finn Russell. He had his own version in Stuart Barnes and resists the temptation to compare the two eras.

‘Nobody likes watching repeated errors’

“Our experience was different, we were fortunate to win at the first attempt in the knock-out years starting in 1983-84 and the team tasted success and just wanted to keep on tasting it,” he added.

“Or you can go there and lose and come back from adversity. Finn Russell is a world-class player but there are unsung heroes too. The whole of the Bath pack has been fantastic. Look at the likes of Ted Hill, he is a warrior, he is a mountain but is quick too. Yet he kind of goes under the radar a little bit. Sam Underhill, Charlie Ewels, Tom Dunn.

“It has been a rollercoaster. Previously it was not pretty to watch at times, for a long period. Nobody likes watching repeated errors. I have been there. I know everyone was trying their hardest and it just wasn’t working.

“Some of these guys have been through a lot of hard times together and preserved and have got to where they are. They are now getting the execution right and the timing right.

‘When it is on, they attack’

“Rather than dropping off in the last 10, we have been winning games in the last 10. We used to worry if they would be able to hold on to winning positions. They are fit and they are fighting for each other. It is properly exciting to watch. When it is on, they attack. And Northampton deserve to be top of the league too with the way they have been playing.”

His anticipation is such that he was forced to forgo a pre-arranged lunch with other friends following Bath’s semi-final victory over Sale Sharks at the Rec last Saturday.

“I didn’t want to let them down but hopefully I will have a lot more lunches with those friends in the future,” he adds. “But live sport is rare, particularly when you played and supported a club for so long.

“So I am getting on the bus with some friends I have known since I was 11. Yeah, it is going to be a great day and hopefully more to come as well. Win or lose, it is a start of Bath being very competitive for the foreseeable future.”

Yes, the Prince of Centres is finally smiling again. The scent of success is back in the air at Bath. There may still be a long way to go for the club to rekindle their powerhouse days when they dominated the English game for over a decade. Northampton may go into the game as favourites with the bookmakers, but Guscott remembers the season in 1998 when Bath won the Heineken Cup despite an indifferent season.

“When we won the European Cup, we hadn’t had a particularly good season, but we finished the season with momentum and that can be critical. When you have momentum, you have to score and then you get the ball back and you have to put more pressure on again. How many times do we see a team score but then make an error from the restart and let the other team back in. You have got to capitalise on your time and the good teams do.”

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