Bath Rugby Club is one of the oldest rugby clubs in existence in the United Kingdom. Like many other rugby clubs of the period, the club formed as an offshoot of the local cricket club, who were looking for a sport to keep the members occupied during the cricket off-season. Although the club had no stable base during its earliest years, it remained competitive against local opposition teams and travelling players. By the early 1890’s, the club had begun to entertain Welsh teams, although they often suffered defeats, in part due to the many tactical and physical differences between the Welsh players and those from Bath.
As rugby union became more and more competitive throughout the twentieth century, Bath begun to take on more opponents, from around the country. Bath also toured internationally, including a successful overseas tour in France, where the team beat St. Claude, Givors and Tour du Pin. During this era, Bath became known for their fast, attacking style, which was somewhat unusual in Rugby Union.
The reputation of the team continued to grow throughout the sixties and seventies, with many Bath players gaining international call-ups. However, the arrival of new coach, Jack Rowell, contributed to a shake-up of Bath’s style. Even though all Rugby Union players of that time period were amateur athletes, Rowell persuaded the club to look further afield for players, and began to bring in players from outside of the Bath area. This allowed him to assemble a side which was characterised by power and precision.
By the time the Premier League was created in 1986, Bath had fashioned themselves into a force to be reckoned with, and the team went on to win the league 6 times in the first 8 years. Their success in this tournament was mirrored in a range of other national and international competitions, and most English teams identified Bath as THE “side to beat”.
The Professional Era
The departure of Jack Rowell, who was moving on to take up as position as head coach of the England team, signalled a turning point for the club. Shortly after this event, rugby union was made a professional sport, and the transfer of players between clubs across the country became more common. Although Bath still had limited success in this period, the club’s league standing slumped during the early noughties, reaching a low point during the 2002/2003 season, when the club narrowly avoided relegation.
By changing the team tactics, coaching team and much of the squad line-up, a strong team was once again created, who were able to challenge other professional squads in England. In 2007/2008, the team went on to win the European Challenge Cup. Whilst the team have not regained the same position of domination that they were renowned for in the earliest period of professional Rugby Union, the team are still strong contenders in competitions across the UK.
The club regularly hosts players who are called up to the international stage, including players from outside the United Kingdom. The current squad includes English, Welsh, Australian, South African, Samoan, Irish and Argentine players. As well as having a fully fledged team, Bath Rugby Club also operates at an academy level, with the intention of bringing more home-grown players through into the squad, by supporting younger athletes.
In its earliest years, Bath Rugby Club had no permanent home grounds, although the team began playing many matches in Bath Recreation Ground (Bath Rec) during the late 19th century. This space was once used for a mixture of different sports, including cricket, football, lawn tennis, bowls and archery, depending on the season. For the vast majority of the 20th century, the team used the Rec as their grounds, and by the 21st century, the team held a semi-permanent lease on a 14,000 seat stadium at the venue.
This stadium is opened up during the off-season and used for other sports. In recent years, the club has been considering moving their grounds, in favour of building a larger, permanent venue at another site in the Bath area. Plans have not been finalised and there is still much debate within the area about whether such a move should go ahead.