Annus horriblis doesn’t quite do justice to what has been a truly grim campaign for Bath.
The club are so hungry for a return to the increasingly sepia glory days of yesteryear and after they reached last year’s Premiership final, a trophy at last felt within touching distance.
A year on however, Bath won’t be at Twickenham. Nor will they be in the Premiership semi-finals or, worst of all, in next season’s Champions Cup.
The club do not lack for much, bar the extra thousands of seats The Rec sorely needs to accommodate all of their supporters, however they are understandably short on sympathy from rival supporters.
With a millionaire backer in Bruce Craig and one of the finest rugby grounds in the world, not to mention a squad now heaving full of internationals, the foundations are in place for far more than eighth place.
These seasons can happen – Northampton are another side to have fallen well short of expectations this season, while Leicester’s two-year absence from the Premiership final seems like an abomination by their own lofty standards, having previously played in nine straight.
What Bath have to fear is that the 2014/2015 was the exception rather than the new norm – one to expected each and every season.
New signings Niko Matawalu and Rhys Priestland were not the widely expected hits at half-back, although the confusion over Priestland’s availability to play for Wales was certainly a hinderance, but then Bath have had to deal with those kind of setbacks throughout a fractured campaign.
You know it feels like a long season, considering that Sam Burgess was still training at Farleigh House back at the beginning of November, before he decided to return home after England’s World Cup implosion.
Add in the absence and now enforced retirement of club captain, the widely liked Stuart Hooper, and it’s never been plain sailing. David Denton’s best days with the club are still to come, Amanaki Mafi’s exit too has been far from smooth, while Anthony Watson’s red card and the way Saracens clinically dismantled Bath back at the start of the April felt like the final breath in their bid for any shape of success this season.
Saturday’s win over Leicester as a result meant very little, as Bath, stranded down the table out of contention for the riches above, had nothing to play for. But winning against Leicester will always mean something – too juicy a derby game to ignore.
Bath’s ‘diamond’ attacking formation has been rumbled too often this time around when last year nobody knew how to contain it, but the sight of George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson tearing holes in defences will be a glowing positive for Bath fans to savour over a long summer.
Hooper will be sorely missed, Neal Hatley too, as he joins the England set-up as scrum coach, while those who have given their all for the club in recent years, such as Rob Webber, Ollie Devoto and Dominic Day, have left a mark.
Luke Charteris, Kahn Fotuali’i and most of all Taulupe Faletau are all outstanding recruits, and Charlie Ewels appears a fine talent at lock, included for the first time with England later this month.
Based on that anything less than a top four finish next season would be catastrophic, for the club and the future of head coach Mike Ford. By then we’ll know if Bath’s aspirations are legitimate or pure fantasy.