A royal welcome
Bath is the most beautiful architectural city I have ever seen. It was founded and built by the Romans in 60 AD, with all the buildings having been constructed out of stone.
There are plenty of one-way streets and the layout is confusing when you first drive around the city. It took me half an hour to find the way to the rugby stadium, despite the irony of being able to see it the whole time.
The stadium is right in the middle of the city. It seats only about 15 000 people, which gives you the vibe of a Paarl Gym-Paarl Boishaai derby in South Africa. The atmosphere has to be experienced to be believed.
I am living in a castle with two other players and two of the coaches. Bath’s owner bought the castle and transformed it into a rugby facility. It includes a new gym and three rugby fields, one of which is astro-turf – probably for when the ground freezes!
As a kid, I always dreamed of playing professional rugby and I do remember dreaming, after watching Aladdin, of living in a castle. I never thought that was actually going to happen, but here I am, living in Farleigh House Castle!
I am really keen to get out and play my first game for Bath, but the conditioning coaches and physios over here are a lot more conservative than back home. They have agreed that I am ready to play, but are worried about the strength discrepancy between my legs. The significant strength difference increases the risk of injury, even if it’s the other leg due to over-compensation. I have been hugely impressed by the conditioning coaches and physios here. This knee is obviously going to be a permanent 'work on' in my weekly schedules from now on.
Despite the excitement of living in a castle, my first 10 days in Bath were tricky because I didn't have a car. I forgot how dependent you are on other people when you are without wheels, so I set about my search for a vehicle on Autotrader. After considering numerous options and massive influence from Flouw (Francois Louw), who is obsessed with big vehicles despite the fact that they pollute the planet with Co2, I decided on a Jeep Wrangler.
Happily, the cars here are relatively inexpensive compared with those back home. The petrol, sadly, is not. It's close to R20 a litre, and a Jeep Wrangler enjoys petrol as much as Schalk Burger enjoys beer. There was a big hill coming out of the petrol station, and I am sure I saw the petrol gauge move by the time I got to the top. I’m not joking when I say I was slip-streaming trucks in the slow lane on the way back just to save fuel. I don't regret my decision though; it’s is an awesome vehicle, which I’m loving to drive.
Because of my commitments to Bath, I managed to watch only the second half of the Springboks' test against Ireland. The second half must have been a lot better than the first, and I thought the Springboks did well to close out the win. There are a lot of young players in the team who are still learning and growing and just beginning to establish themselves at test level.
Scotland will provide a substantial challenge. I chatted with Simon Taylor, who played many tests for Scotland and now plays for Bath, about their likely approach against the Boks. He reckons they will look to spoil a lot and try to break the Boks' rhythm. Scotland may have lost 11 of their last 13 matches against South Africa, but bear in mind that they won 21-17 in 2010, the last time the Springboks played at Murrayfield. I don't think it will be a close game this time though, as the power of the Boks' pack will be too much for the Scots to handle.
I am delighted for Juan de Jongh. He so richly deserves his place in the starting XV. As his best mate Gio Aplon said on Twitter: “They call him the postman, because he always delivers.” Appel’s spot-on correct as usual!
Before departing from South Africa, I was warned about two things: how cold it gets and how wet it is. To my surprise, the weather has not been at all bad. I'm still sleeping in shorts and a t-shirt, and still wear shorts outdoors. When we received our kit and there were five pairs of tracksuit bottoms, I prepared for the worse. Two months from now, I’ll probably read this and think – you idiot!
I have not yet seen the Currie Cup final. But of course I made a point of watching Juan de Jongh's try to see him using his feet and eluding defenders – and to admire his post-try dance. A special try. And what great movement and rhythm in the dance!
Western Province’s Currie Cup victory was a result of a lot of hard work put in by the coaches and players alike. Isn’t it wonderful to think that the Currie Cup champions boast a tight five that has four under-21s? Imagine that pack five years from now – a scary prospect for opposition packs!
I'll report back next week. There is plenty more news!