Dave Attwood on the modern rivalry between Bristol and his old club Bath ahead of huge derby
Dave Attwood is Mr West Country – no one else has a better flavour of the modern rivalries between Bristol and Bath.
There might as well be cider in the veins of the lock, now 34, who started at Bristol, left for Gloucester after his first club were relegated, then moved to Bath for a decade before returning home two years ago.
Now a Bear, Attwood has his playful poking stick out ahead of the latest derby between the two old foes just 13 miles apart out west.
Dave Attwood has a unique insight into the modern rivalry between Bristol and Bath
Still living in Bath he is very much on the Bristol side of the divide now, able to assess the stark differences between the sides and a conflict turned on its ear by Bears’ recent revolution, re-brand and raucous return to the Premiership summit all funded by billionaire Steve Lansdown.
‘It’s interesting,’ Attwood says when Bristol’s new-found wealth is mentioned.
‘When I joined Bath in 2011 it was not long after Bruce Craig had come in. They had the rich owner, new facilities, everything amazing but haven’t made anything like the chrysalis evolution Bristol have.
‘Bristol now have new facilities, a new owner, the money, but have delivered a very different product.
‘The history and pedigree of Bath in the 1970s, 80s and 90s was always something the fans harked back to.
Attwood spent a decade at Bath (left) and still lives in the city but is now a Bear (right)
‘Where Bristol is forward thinking, “this is where we’re going”, Bath is, “this is what we’ve done”. That’s an interesting dynamic with how the club is run, and the product on the field.’
Was that ‘harking back’ from Bath fans a burden then, in his eight-year career there?
‘Definitely,’ Attwood confirms.
‘What those players did for the club, and achieved individually was unbelievable, but they were playing a different game. For fans to sit there and say “this isn’t what we used to do back then! You’re doing it wrong” was ludicrous, and I remember feeling that.
‘We’d have team previews showing the history of the club, not amazing things that people in the room have done, but things players did 10 or more years previously.
Bears’ return to the Premiership summit all funded by billionaire Steve Lansdown (right)
‘I get it, but can we not look forward and be expansive?
‘There was a continual burden. Bath has achieved an awful lot, has a trophy cabinet full to the brim, and as a Bath fan there’s an expectation because of it – not recent success, but historical success – to reflect the success of 30, 40 years ago.’
What does Attwood think, then, of those Bath fans’ perception of Bristol? The cash-splashing noisy neighbours with the new name and flash training ground?
‘They can’t have that, as they’ve got the same thing themselves,’ he returns.
‘They live in the big Georgian houses with the billionaire owner, and have the wonderful estate training ground. What we’ve got is the last four results.
‘They can be upset. Traditionally you’d say it was the Bath poshos against the Bristol scumbags coming to rough them up, but it doesn’t work like that.
Three of Bristol’s last four victories over rivals Bath have been by huge margins
‘The fans over in Bath unfortunately have had to swallow a bit of humble pie over the past couple of seasons, when maybe they didn’t show Bristol the respect they deserved.’
Attwood’s personal record in these Bristol-Bath games is impressive, a lucky charm Bristol will miss tonight after he failed a late fitness test. He has lost two derbies in 13 for either side, although he has mixed memories.
‘My senior rugby debut in 2007 was in a Bristol game against Bath. Danny Grewcock beat the **** out of me!’ he laughs.
‘I came on as a replacement for five minutes. The first thing I did was steal a lineout. For the remainder of that time it seemed every ruck I got to he would hit me in the face. I was on for five minutes and he must have hit me seven times!
‘The opening game a few seasons ago, when I joined Bristol from Bath in 2019, we kicked off to them, Zach Mercer caught it and I picked his pocket and ran off with the ball. That was particularly special having come from Bath.
‘It’s nice to have followed the evolution of it. With Bath when Bristol were promoted, we gave them a good thumping, which was fairly expected in their first year back in the Premiership.
Attwood remembers Danny Grewcock (right) beat the the f*** out of him in his first derby
‘Now as a stalwart on the other side it’s nice to have a track record of handing the thumpings out!’
Thumpings is right. Three of Bristol’s last four wins over Bath have been massive – 48-3 (a record victory), 40-20 at the Rec and 43-16 – with a more modest 19-13 win in between.
But Friday night it could be different. Both sides are winless, desperate not to end the night with a hat-trick of early defeats. Attwood knows it will be emotionally charged, and that is absolutely fine.
‘There will be some very forceful words, some clear messages with an awful lot of conviction, and the swear-o-meter will probably tick over once or twice!’ he smiles.
‘The emotion in these weeks is so clear, so evident that it’s quite empowering.
‘We’ve got no sense of entitlement, we’re not in the vein of form where we can say we’re going to win this game, that’s ludicrous.
‘Hopefully there will be free-flowing, utopian, attractive rugby, but really there’s probably going to a large degree of confrontational, aggressive, pragmatic rugby with two teams desperate to start momentum rolling again.
‘It’s attractive for the neutral, but the reality might be quite scrappy and a lot of big people running into each other.
Attwood is expecting a fiery affair on Friday and plenty of forceful words between the players