Bath Rugby lock horns with French side Brive once more this weekend in the Challenge Cup – a clash steeped in history for the West Country outfit.
The Stade Lescure in Bordeaux was the venue for arguably the greatest triumph in Bath’s history, as they overcame Brive 19-18 in a pulsating encounter to win the 1998 Champions Cup.
Bath’s backline was their real strength, boasting the likes of Jon Callard at full-back, Adedayo Adebayo and Ieuan Evans on the wings, Phil de Glanville and Jeremy Guscott in the centres, Mike Catt at stand-off, and Andy Nicol at scrum-half.
But it was their forwards that won them the European Cup, holding wave after wave of Brive attacks on their own line at 15-6 down, before Callard brought Bath roaring back.
And Nicol remembers the celebrations as if they were yesterday.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) February 21, 2017
“I’ve got wonderful memories of it,” he said. “It was a special, special day in my life and certainly my rugby career, and also for anyone connected with Bath. It was a great day.
“Because Bath had been such a dominant club for so many years, and they’d dominated the English game, and we probably always felt that we were the best team in Europe.
“But there was no vehicle to prove that, there was no European Cup to prove that.
“The final was in Bordeaux, so we basically went into the lion’s den. We were up against it; the atmosphere was incredible and walking out for that final rivalled anything I was lucky enough to do, including captaining my country at Murrayfield.
“I think we had 7,000 go over, which was amazing. But that just proved how much it meant for the city of Bath to have their team in the final.
“My wife was there, and it was just a really special moment. I’ve got such an affinity and affection for the club, because they were very good for me, it was the best five years of my career when I played down there.”
Bath will be desperate to regain some momentum after three straight defeats have seen them slip to fifth spot in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) March 27, 2017
But Nicol is adamant Todd Blackadder’s side can deliver the goods once more, both domestically and in Europe.
“Bath, I think, this year, if they can get to the playoffs in the Aviva Premiership Rugby, then they become a very dangerous team, because they’ve got big players who know how to perform.
“They sometimes struggle when some of those players leave during the autumn or the RBS 6 Nations, but they’re a class act when they get them all there.
“And Todd Blackadder is a great coach; I know Todd very well, he played here at Edinburgh, I coached for one season, at Currie Rugby Club, and Todd was my assistant, so I gave him his coaching debut.
“I could see then what a brilliant coach he would be. He’s got a brilliant way with people, his man management skills are fantastic, and his knowledge of the game is there.
“So I think he’s done a great job with Bath. You know, arguably neither of the two clubs are what they were when we met back in 1998, and especially Brive have fallen right off for many years – they got relegated but they’ve come back up.
“But the Rec will be rocking this week. I see Bath being be too strong for Brive, and they will get to the semi-final.”
Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 27 May at Twickenham are now on sale. If you want to have an unforgettable day out at club rugby’s best Cup Final then click here for tickets.