Before the glory of Bath’s incredible 43-10 victory to Wasps on St George’s Day, Lauren had a chat with their prop David Flatman about life at the Rec, scrums and the curious incident of waking up with Julian White, wearing some strange women’s clobber…
How’s the mood at Bath at the moment?
It’s good, we were out of form for a few weeks, but it was nice to get a win last week and hopefully repeat that effort this Saturday against Harlequins but the mood’s good. I guess it’s a time of transition but we’re trying to make it as undramatic as possible.
It’s a bit like that across the board at the moment, isn’t it?
Yeah, I guess, well not everyone I don’t think, there are a lot of teams that are quite settled and sorted and we’ve got a little bit of change with the management also.
Those sort of changes aren’t happening at every club and it’s a period we’ve got to get through and work though, but we’ll get there.
The news recently came through that David Barnes is retiring, how’s everyone feeing about that at the moment?
Everyone’s in a pretty good mood about it! No, it’s very very sad, he’s probably one of the best ambassadors for Bath Rugby in the modern era. When you consider that Bath was the third or even fourth Premiership club he arrived at and he still played 266 games for us, that’s pretty incredible, especially in the front row.
[He’s an] unbelievable guy and you know, it can catch up with any of us, he hurt his neck, his hands started feeling funny and his arms started feeling funny and he’s in a lot of pain – that’s not how you want to go out. He probably wanted to go out and score a hat trick at Twickenham like we all do. He’s a good guy and he’s got his head screwed on and I’m sure he’ll be very successful now his rugby’s finished but it’s going to take a while to get his head around it.
Are you planning any sort of testimonial celebrations for him?
Barnsey’s been doing his own testimonial for about 15 years now. His testimonial, run for him finished officially about a year ago, but there’s an event for him tomorrow, another one next week… I picked up a flyer last week at the Rec, off the floor cause, you have to try and pick litter when you can, and saw my name down as presenting/MCing an event. It says Help for Heroes but his name was on the flyer as well so that’s going on and he failed to tell me about that but I guess he’s had a lot on his plate!
How’s your own season been so far?
It’s been alright, I’ve had some good games and some bad, and some stuff to work on, but hopefully starting to play a bit better now. What we want to do is achieve something towards the end of the season. The top six is massive for us, and reaching the play-offs? We’re desperate to do that. If we can, great, but if not we just have to take as much as we can and play as well as we can so it’s not just a season for season’s sake. But it’s been a little bit up and down, I don’t think I’ve been too awful or too brilliant at any point. I think now, even though there’s only a few games left I just want to fulfil as much potential as I can for those games.
So have you had any particular highlights so far this season?
Dave Barnes’ retirement! No I’m joking… he’s actually one of my best mates so I’m allowed to say things that.
We played a great game against Northampton at the Rec a month or so ago, that was very enjoyable to play in. I think we’ve dug out some really hard wins; we dug out a hard one against Sale on Friday night. We almost had a highlight up at Welford Road where we came very close but didn’t manage to do it but, you know, you manage every so often to get a win that makes everyone feel great. So there have been highlights.
John Connelly our old coach told me once that ‘Rugby in the end is a blur, you only remember the good days’ Most of the games I’ve ever played are part of the blur. Very occasionally one or two stick out. You can get very excited about a big home win but it’s finishing positions and trophies that count so we’re still looking for those highlights
That’s very philosophical of you.
Well it’s not really, it’s the truth. When you’re 19 and you play a big game and manage to win it’s the highlight of your career but when you’ve played about 250 of them, it doesn’t become boring, it’s still as exciting as it ever was but you have a lot more perspective on the game. Will I look back in ten years and remember the time we beat Northampton at the Rec? Probably not. Will I remember the day we won at Welford Road? Maybe, but what I want to remember is the days we won trophies and titles. We’re still looking at the bigger picture, still aiming for our ultimate highlights but they haven’t happened yet.
Obviously, a few years ago there was a bit of controversy around Bath. In the cold light of day now do you feel that it has made you stronger as a squad?
Well there was a lot of controversy a couple of years ago, and a lot of people felt that there was a lot of emotional damage that went with that, I disagreed at the time. I don’t know. The only emotional damage I felt was that I was gutted that it had got that far and they were my mates and I was gutted for my mates.
Not just gutted that they got told off and punished but gutted that the situation had become so serious for them. The main damage was that we lost five of our first choice players and a lot of guys that had been at the club for a very long time and played a lot of games here. It’s very difficult, if you take five top guys out of the Manchester United team and they probably wouldn’t be winning the league this year so, that was more it for me.
We signed some really good guys, they’re bedding in and it’s onwards and upwards. To be honest, it’s a forgotten episode at the club; you certainly don’t take the field at Wasps or Exeter or Quins and thing ‘let’s make up for the controversy that happened two years ago’. You asking me the question is probably the first time I’ve thought about it in about six months! But then, I wasn’t involved and it’s probably harder for the guys that were but you get past these things and when the shit hits the fan on the field you’re just thinking about what’s in front of you.
From a spectator’s perspective, it does seem like Bath are on the up and reaching for glory, and that you seem to have improved season on season since then. Would you agree that it’s how you guys feel or, am I romanticising it?
I think maybe you’re romanticising it a bit, but that’s all right! Out there there’s no time for romance. We’re all striving, we’re all aiming for glory and it’s all about finding the right formula, signing the right players, it’s about getting the management structures right, even your facilities.
We’re changing a lot of stuff at the moment and the idea is that we’ll have the right sort of solidity to move forward, and to become a squad where we know where we are in all aspects. We’ve always been striving, and we did well before the controversy, we were making semi-finals in the Premiership and Heineken Cup. I hope we’re getting better, but everyone’s getting better. However romantic that sounds I’m not sure!
You spoke recently about how ‘downtime’ isn’t really ‘downtime’ any more when injuries happen. Do you think that’s made the game stronger or more entertaining because players are always ‘on’?
Not that long ago you’d get injured and you’d just disappear and come back when you’re nearly fit. The injured guys get hammered now but you give us guys a week off and we’re bored. I don’t think it’s an addiction to exercise, I think it’s just boring because all your mates are training and you’re on your own. It’s like trying to bunk off school for the day, there’s no point bunking off on your own, especially when you’ve got kids, it’s probably more peaceful hitting the scrummage machine than it is sitting in the lounge.
You want something to do, you need a little bit of time to rest and get over the injury but then you want to get active. Guys now have what you might call a hard time but actually it’s great because you’re kept active, all the able parts of your body get worked on and it’s a time to make gains.
You still get your downtime, the players wouldn’t do a huge amount after lunch, and they have a bit of structure to life, so I think it’s better, you’re not off down the bookies and coffee shop to coffee shop. We’re in a better state now than we were.
There’s been a lot of talk this season about issues around the scrum – do you feel something needs to change?
Yeah, of course it does there’s just so much for the referees to do, you’ve got to look at the timing of the engage. Every referee’s different, there’s no standard timing. There’s a reason for that, humans are all different – as soon as you have a standard timing people will be second guessing it and pushing the limits but it’s very difficult as an exhausted front rower sometimes, to stick to the timing. There’s a huge amount of free kicks and penalties. It used to just be ‘is he collapsing?’ Or ‘Is he boring in?’ Now the loosehead has to have his hands somewhere – but can he get it there because the tighthead is binding on his arm? And is the ref spotting that?
Actually the most refreshing game we’ve had this year was Nigel Owens refereeing us against Saracens. I think I’m right in saying that his big thing is that he does no video preparation for the game – you might say he’s unprepared but actually, he’s just refereeing what he sees, so he comes in with no preconceived ideas. You might say some of the penalties went the other way, I think both teams got penalised, but it was fresh and you could tell that he hadn’t had a nod from somebody to watch out for him doing this or him doing that. You can build yourself a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being a cheat or for being immortal at the scrum. But that’s our job, so someone coming in completely unbiased, with no preconception of what he might see it was great for us and both teams really enjoyed it.
Something’s got to change, I mean it’s a complete dog show, the scrum now, it’s very different to how it was five years ago. It’s not that anyone’s cheating, it’s not that at all, it’s just bloody difficult to get everything right, to tick every box.
Sometimes a scrum will fall on the floor, if the ball’s at the back who’s bothered? A lot of the time that’s honestly how we view it, because apart from anything else it’s bloody hard work continuing to reset scrums. Equally, refs have been told not to reset as many scrums because it’s boring spectacle so they are directly pressured to make a decision. So are they always confident the decision is the right one?
Like any referee in any sport, they get stuff wrong; they know that, so do we, that’s fine. But you know you’re forcing a ref to be really assertive about something where, half the time being honest, we don’t know what’s going on! I feel like you’re almost going to have to take the hit away now, get everyone in the right position and then begin the scrum, it might take a couple of seconds longer but there’ll only be one, there won’t be too many resets.
Who knows what they’re going to do they might add another stage to the ‘Crouch Touch Pause Engage’ and make it a 13 stage process or whatever they do, I dunno but, we’ll see.
What would be your perfect day off?
A perfect day off would be Baby letting me sleep till Eight, pop the dogs around the block, have a cruise into Bath for a nice lazy bit of breakfast, take my dogs into the fields surrounding Bath or to the Bath race course, probably have an hour or two on the sofa, chill out – because your bones are pretty tired come day off time, then it’s all about the next meal. So then meet somebody for lunch, relax again, meet somebody for dinner, relax again. Pretty sedentary day, that’s how I like to spend it. I mean, we’re so active all the time. I probably do more exercise on my day off than most because I have to walk my dogs for an hour and a half every day, but a day of not thumping around and not thinking too much is generally what I like so usually it involves how I’m going to plan my three meals out.
What kind of dogs do you have – people will ask!
I’ve got an Old English Mastiff and I’ve got an English Bull Terrier Cross, and he looks like one!
I bet they take a lot of exercise, they’re quite feisty things aren’t they?
Yeah, the bull terrier loves a run, the Mastiff isn’t so keen but he gets a lot of exercise cause of his brother basically!
If you were stuck on a desert island with two of your team mates, who would you like it to be and why?
Oh god! Um… Peter Short, because he’s a one man entertainment centre and …ooh…who else, probably Michael Claasens as he’s so nice he’d probably offer himself up to be eaten first.
Is that something you’d be prepared to do?
Yeah, he’d make good eating I reckon, Mikey; nice and lean, free range, yeah he’d be alright.
Who’s the best or worst roomate when you’re away?
The worst is Duncan Bell, because before you’ve even put your bags on your bed he’s eaten all the shortbread biscuits. And because he’s like a St. Bernard and he’s got loads of excess skin in his throat through years of overeating he snores like a train, so you spend most of the night whacking him with a pillow. As soon as you want to turn the telly on and chill out after dinner he’s on his iPad with his ridiculously enormous headphones on around his massive cow-head being the most antisocial roommate ever and then ruins your night’s sleep after that.
Martin Wood, the former Bath and England scrum half, was the best roommate. He was my roommate for years here. Whenever we get to a hotel we always have to put our bags down then go and meet or a team stretch, which I always think is a bit of a waste of time cause I’m a bit old school. But Woody used to say ‘The stretch can wait’ and he’d always put the kettle on so we used to always be 10 minutes late for a stretch cause we’d have a nice brew first! I liked it because he made three or four cups of tea a night.
Do you have any pre-match rituals?
No! Not really, I always try not to forget my boots. No I don’t really have any, I sort of think that superstitions make you nervous, because there are things you have to do before a game there’ll always be times when you can’t do them all or something will be out of place and you’ll go into a game feeling all insecure.
What’s been your favourite touring moment?
In 2000, winning in South Africa with England. We won the second test, which was nice and popped out for a few beers, inevitably you end up separating out into your own little cliques with the guys you know best of all so Danny Grewcock, Julian White and I ended up having a few pints in the corner together. Long story short, by the next day we were labelled ‘The Jo’burg Three’. There were a few incidents that night – nothing untoward, you understand- but it involved someone getting paid off and Danny, Julian and I having to give back all the girls clothes that we were wearing when we woke up.
There were no girls there, evidently, but their clothes were with us. Unfortunately there was nothing romantic to reported that night but… Well, I got to spend the night in bed with Julian White, which wasn’t very nice. I think some girls rather unwisely left some nice jackets and blouses and scarves in the cloakroom and we couldn’t find our jackets, our England blazers, we decided we needed a little crop top each to keep us warm.
Someone also commandeered one of the hotel’s golf buggies and rolled it and we were accused and it wasn’t us. I want to state for the record it was not us. I know who it was, I’m just not telling you who!
Who’s your ultimate rugby hero?
Wade Dooley, I used to love Wade Dooley. He’s just big and hard and no nonsense, and I like him, very little drama, seemed like a good old boy that just got on with it.
Is there anyone currently that inspires you?
I think the best, he’s not my hero but the best player I’ve played against in the last couple of years is Stephen Ferris, who plays for Ulster and Ireland. I have no idea how he plays in the Magners League, I don’t see any of these games, but when we’ve played against him in the Heineken Cup the last few years he’s been pretty phenomenal. Rugby must be hilarious when you’re that good.
What’s your favourite book?
It’s called After the Lemons, and it’s by a local Bath journalist called Kevin Coughlan, it’s a book about the glory years of Bath Rugby and it’s brilliant.
How about album?
I think Plan Bis my favourite at the moment; I’ve been listening to it most days for about a year. I tend to have one album that I hammer for about a year then I get another one. I get one album a year because I’m not very cool. Olly Barkley told me Plan B was good so I downloaded it. That’s not true, I bought it on CD but I’m the only person that still buys CDs anymore, and I absolutely love it, I even converted Danny Grewcock to it who’s 47 years old, so it must be good!
How about film?
I bet everyone says Shawshank, don’t they? I think if there’s one film I can’t turn off when it’s on it’s Predator. Always loved it since.
Interview by Lauren, Picture by Herring Shoes. Amazon links help to support Manpilez.