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FEATURE Tom Dunn: ‘Bath was a massive ship facing the wrong way.'

Tom Dunn: ‘Bath was a massive ship facing the wrong way.'
3 weeks ago

Tom Dunn arrives for our interview at Bath’s palatial Farleigh House training complex in his shorts and vest accompanied by his five-month-old labrador, Tilly.

It makes for a striking contrast – the fearsome tattooed figure with weeping cauliflower ears who looks all set to go on some high seas raid and his sleek, elegant, loveable sidekick.

One appears a lot more strokeable than the other but ask Ben Spencer, Bath’s captain, about his piratical hooker and he comes over all misty-eyed.

“Dunny is a brilliant human being,” he said. “He’s our brilliant human being. We love him to bits.”

Tom Dunn
Dunn has been a rock for Bath during 12 turbulent years since his debut (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Born in the city 31 years ago, Dunn has seen and lived it all with Bath Rugby – from the doldrum years to the current crest of a wave which sees the club 80 minutes from Twickenham and a place in the Premiership final.

Twelve years on from his debut against Calvisano, he is the club’s longest-serving player – a constant in a whirlpool of change as Bath have gone through incarnation after incarnation in the hope of rediscovering the formula which made them English rugby’s pre-eminent force back in the 90s.

When he took his first steps, Bath were in the middle of a run of four successive titles. Back then you imagined their success would last forever but every dynasty is time limited and it has been a long time between drinks since.

Do I feel like we’re in a really good place? Yes, I do. Is this the best I have felt about our team in 15 years? Yes, it is.

Unbelievably, it is 28 years since Bath were last English champions. Is this their time then?

“It’s a really hard question to answer because I’ve never won anything. I don’t know what it feels like,” said Dunn.

“Do I feel like we’re in a really good place? Yes, I do. Is this the best I have felt about our team in 15 years? Yes, it is.

“So if we’re good enough to win it, I think you get what you deserve.”

Much has been made of the influence of outstanding incomers like Finn Russell, Ollie Lawrence and Alfie Barbeary in helping to turn Bath into contenders again and they have played their part, but every club needs its foundation stones.

Tom Dunn and Finn Russell
Scotland fly-half Finn Russell has helped revitalise Bath’s attack since his arrival at The Rec (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

If there is one man who personifies Bath Rugby it is Dunn.

You would imagine given the prevailing success in Bath at the time that there would have been something in the air which naturally drew him to rugby but actually football came first. He was a handy central defender who played in the same school backline as one Tyrone Mings.

“I headed everything and he chased everything,” said Dunn. “We had a pretty decent defence to be fair. 

“I played a lot of football until I was 14 but then I basically got the wrong shape for football and probably the wrong temperament as well and rugby took off.”

I worked in Starbucks, I worked on site doing lead-work roofing – I actually did that on James Dyson’s house. I worked behind a bar, I worked on a farm washing carrots. It wasn’t a conventional route.

He joined the Bath academy – as a prop initially – and threw himself into rugby as his desired career path but he had to scrap his way there.

He was not given his first full-time contract until he was 21 which meant earning money where he could.

“I worked in Starbucks, I worked on site doing lead-work roofing – I actually did that on James Dyson’s house. I worked behind a bar, I worked on a farm washing carrots. It wasn’t a conventional route,” he said.

“I thought I was good enough to be a professional player but it took me a long time to get picked. That gave me this chip on my shoulder that I was going to prove people wrong and that I would do it my way which drove me, I think, right the way up until 2020 and my England debut.”

Tom Dunn
Dunn won three England caps off the bench in late 2020, when no crowds were allowed during Covid (Photo David Rogers – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

The three caps under Eddie Jones – won, unfortunately, in the solitude of Covid – finally put his mind at rest on that front but he is not one made to rest on his laurels. 

He remains a driven individual but one fuelled now by a more positive force.

“I think it is making my family proud and leaving more of a legacy than just having played X amount of games for Bath,” he said.

“I want to leave something that’s tangible, something that we can look back on in 15 years’ time and say: ‘We won that.’

“When we were growing up, people talked about the golden era and your Jeremy Guscotts, your Gareth Chilcotts and your Nigel Redmans winning things there.

“I’d love my kids to be able to say: ‘Do you remember Spencer, Ewels, Dunn?’”

The biggest difference with this DOR compared to ones I’ve had in the past is he’s massively secure with what he does and what he wants…That bleeds down through the team, that trust and belief you have in other people. 

In-form Sale stand in Bath’s way in the semi-final. Having seen them off 42-24 at The Rec in the regular league season two months ago, the home team start as the favourites.

“It was a tight game but we pulled away in the last 20,” he said. “I think that game probably showed the quality of our squad. The replacements that came on made a massive impact.”

Bath’s depth is a trump card ahead of the play-offs but there is also an assurance about the side these days under the earnest Johann van Graan, who has taken the team from rock bottom of the Premiership when he arrived two years ago.

Johann van Graan
Bath finished eighth in Van Graan’s first season but haven’t been out of the top four this term (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

“I think the biggest difference with this DOR compared to ones I’ve had in the past is he’s massively secure with what he does and what he wants,” said Dunn.

“When someone is massively secure, I think that bleeds down through the team, that trust and belief you have in other people.

“Bath Rugby is a massive ship and it was facing the wrong way. You don’t turn it around in 15 minutes but by the end of last season you probably saw the ship starting to turn.

“And then we hit the ground running this year and I think the ship’s going in the right direction now.”

Winning makes such a difference. Where we were three years ago, the conversations weren’t as nice.

As Van Graan noted this week, the locals are beginning to believe rather than hope now.

“There’s not one aspect of my life that doesn’t have a relationship with Bath Rugby and if I do the school pick-up, all people want to talk to me about is: ‘well done on the weekend, such a good vibe, we’re so excited’. Then if I do the nursery drop-off, it’s like: ‘good game on the weekend’ and when I take the kids swimming, the instructors are like: ‘Oh, well done.’” said Dunn.

“Winning makes such a difference. Where we were three years ago, the conversations weren’t as nice.”

Tom Dunn
Dunn says he “couldn’t be trusted with himself” if Bath were to go on and win the Premiership title (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

If Bath can finish the job off this season, there would also be a commercial spin-off opportunity for Dunn.

Having done butchery work experience, he runs a Hog Roast business which caters for weddings, festivals and other celebration events – Bath’s first title since 1996 would certainly qualify on that score.

He does not fancy the responsibility though, given he would be on a bender a lifetime in the making.

“I’m going to be in charge of absolutely nothing for at least a week if that happens. I cannot be trusted with myself that week.”

Comments

1 Comment
T
Thomas 24 days ago

I hope he gets to hoist the silverware in a week’s time.

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