Calm, composed and articulate, Gary Gold clearly possesses the perfect attributes with which to handle a crisis. Of course, still over a week away from the new season with two impressive pre-season victories over London Welsh and Ospreys already in the bag, his job as Bath’s director of rugby does not yet require any drastic measures. However, having seen their side stutter to eighth place in last season’s Aviva Premiership, the Rec faithful will not tolerate more mediocrity. Quite simply, the club’s traditions will not allow it.
Former favourite Lewis Moody aimed a subverted jab at such unforgiving fans at the end of last month, calling for “realism” about Bath’s quest back to the top of the domestic tree. A more inflammatory character might not have taken too kindly to such a summation, but Gold is also considerate.
“I thought for a while about the stuff that Lewis said,” ponders the 44 year-old South African in a quiet tone that belies his considerable stature and Steven Seagal features. “I actually think he hit the nail on the head.”
“As a coaching staff, our goals do have to be realistic. Obviously, we have to improve on what went on last year and the crucial thing will be to get the attitude on the field right. That can provide the foundation for us to kick on and achieve things. We definitely can’t expect to wave a magic wand and be European champions again – primarily, I guess, because we aren’t in the Heineken Cup.”
That wry sense of humour will certainly stand Gold in good stead. Over a long, arduous season in a tough league, adaptability is paramount. Keeping his cards admirably close to his chest, the former Springboks assistant coach refuses to lay down any specifics surrounding what he would consider success during his first campaign in the West Country. Gold’s burning ambition to string wins together in every tournament is clear, though.
“I would have loved to be in the Heineken Cup straight away, but now we have to go hammer and tongs at the Amlin,” he explains. “If that means we get a bit of breathing space and there are one or two teams that we can trial things against, that would be great. The real pressure has to be around our expectations for the Premiership season.
“We don’t want to put a number on it or make any concrete predictions. That is a difficult game, because people get very upset if you over promise and under deliver. For all of us as a group – the coaches and the players – we just need to show a better work ethic and more pragmatism. From there, we should be OK.”
Forming an entirely re-vamped leadership group alongside the significantly experienced Mike Ford, Toby Booth, Neal Hatley and Brad Davis, Gold has a sparklingly clean slate to work with. Rather than rushing into the transfer market like a wrecking ball, though, Bath’s acquisitions have been quietly canny.
The international experience of Paul James and Rob Webber will bolster the front row immeasurably after the retirement of David Flatman and Duncan Bell, while Argentine firebrand Horacio Agulla can add another attacking dimension to a team that managed just 32 tries last term when his Rugby Championship commitments are over.
Wholesale changes in personnel were not required. More important, as Gold managed during a three-month stint with Newcastle, is ingraining a culture of responsibility in a squad that features the likes of Carl Fearns, Michael Claassens and Tom Biggs.
“As coaches, we have inherited a squad that we are excited about,” he continues. “There is a very talented group at our disposal and they have all been outstanding in the way they have received us.
“Now, it is our job to ensure that they get they get the input that they require as professional players. That is what we have to do – to deliver a world-class service to them.”
Having recorded a 21-10 win over the RaboDirect Pro 12 champions on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium, Bath are on the right track to banish underwhelming memories. After one more friendly fixture with Cardiff Blues this weekend, the real stuff starts up the M5 at Worcester. In what promises to be an extremely competitive competition, Gold has to hit the ground running.