Premiership Grounds focus: the Bath Recreation Ground

Premiership Grounds focus: the Bath Recreation Ground

The Bath Recreation Ground is an instantly recognisable stadium and an ever-present of top-flight English Rugby. Sitting in the heart of the city of Bath alongside the river Avon, it has hosted rugby matches since 1884.

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Last Word on Rugby looks back at the history of the Bath Recreation Ground, some of the best memories of matches played there and looks to an exciting future.

The history of the Bath Recreation Ground

As the name suggests, the ground sits on land available for public use, of which the stadium occupies around a quarter. It was part of the Bathwick Estate owned by the Forester family until a lease was granted to the Directors of The Bath and County Recreation Ground Company Limited.

Work was done to make this a venue for rugby, cricket and various other sports. In 1927 , further permissions were given for a grandstand and new north stand to be built. Sadly, these were badly affected by bombing in the Second World War.

Several other deals and arrangements were made throughout the rest of the 20th century, but the one constant has been that Bath Rugby itself do not own the land.

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The present-day owners of the land are Bath Recreation Ltd., to whom the club pay rent. One major condition of this rent has been the need to make the space “open”. Recently dropped, this meant that the open-air East Stand had to be dismantled and removed during the summer.

Unsurprisingly, this has limited any plans to construct a more modern and permanent stadium.

Best recent matches at the Bath Recreation Ground

2014/15 –┬áBath 45 Leicester Tigers 0

Certainly one to remember. In the season where Bath reached the final they comprehensively defeated old rivals Leicester twice at the Rec. This match, in the first month of the season, was an early demonstration the free back play to come from the of Jonathan Joseph, Semisa Rokoduguni and Kyle Eastmond.

In the playoff semifinal, the home side notched up 47 points this time, with great help from a Matt Banahan hat trick.

2015/16 –┬áBath 19 Leinster 16

Perhaps the biggest scalp taken by Bath in recent years. This win helped knock out the three-time European champions and ensured they finished at the bottom of their pool with just one win. But this was still a full-strength visiting team with many familiar names from the current Ireland and Leinster team.

A ferocious game ended with George Ford kicking the winning penalty in the last five minutes. Take a look below:

A relic of the past?

These days the Rec is often the subject of some negative comments by opposition supporters. And they have a point.

A stadium with two open-air stands that hosts matches during a British winter is likely to get some punters wet. Media covering matches must assemble in a tent behind the temporary stands. Being next to a river, the ground is susceptible to flooding, leading to many waterlogged pitches and mudbaths down the years.

When the RFU’s stated that Premiership grounds should hold a minimum of 15,000 people, the Rec was not fit to meet that criterion until it was lowered to 10,000.

The future: Stadium for Bath

With the professional game now over 20 years old and increasing commercial gains to be made, Bath are having to consider the future of their ground. The Stadium for Bath project is now well underway that is aiming to create a 21st century home for Bath Rugby.

It will be built on the current site of the Rec, right in the heart of the city. This poses the interesting question of where Bath will home matches when construction begins.

There is no suitably sized football stadium the city, which would be the obvious solution. A ground share with local rivals Bristol Bears seems highly improbable, as would anything further afield such as Gloucester’s Kingsholm.

A contender may be Swindon Town’s County Ground, but this is over 35 miles away from The Rec. Another controversial choice would be Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium, the longtime home of Bristol. They may end up moving as far away as Wales, as previous plans have suggested.

The Bath Recreation Ground

Wherever the men in blue, black and white end up you can be sure there will a sizeable travelling contingent to watch their team. An even larger group will be waiting for them when the new stadium is open, which could be ready for the 2021/22 season.

There is no doubt another 100 years of history will be made at the Recreation Ground; the new era under Stuart Hooper could be the catalyst for the relaunch of Bath as a powerhouse of English Rugby. The new stadium could be a major part of this revival.

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