“They really need to do some renovations,” was Jan Braai’s simple appraisal of the Roman Baths in Bath, a world heritage site that pays tribute to the Roman presence in the area two thousand years ago. With the Romans long gone, the cultural attraction is steeped in history; Jan was far more interested in the current invaders, who have the Recreation Ground down the road as their somewhat more modern celebration.
Bath’s rugby team features a quartet of South Africans: evergreen hooker Pieter Dixon, Gordon Ramsay lookalike scrumhalf Michael Claasens, laidback flyhalf Butch James, and the club’s new captain, Luke Watson, currently sporting a Ron Burgundy moustache, and wallowing in the twin glow of a successful start to the season, and impending fatherhood. All four are happily settled in the old city in the west of England, and much like Saracens two days earlier, make for a cheerful squad to share a braai with.
England centre Shontayne Hape, big loose forward Andy ‘Beast’ Beattie (who may or may not be related to Tendai Mtawarira), Welshman Tom Cheeseman, and Australian import Matt Carraro joined the South Africans, Jan Braai and myself at Farleigh House, the country manor that’s being turned into a new training centre for the club by owner Bruce Craig, for an evening braai. Michael Claasens is the team’s most ardent braaier, having three or four a week during summer (and showing an admirable resistance to salad and vegetables), but it was Dixie, a former Mr. Cape Town, who took over most of the cooking, under the guidance of captain Watson. Inappropriate, perhaps, given Watson “has never cooked anything in his life,” according to his gorgeous wife Elaine…
The poor folk of Bath don’t have access to boerewors, but we did find ‘South African-style bobotie sausages’ in a local supermarket; not entirely authentic, but a nice tribute to home, and they disappeared almost as quickly as Dixie’s admirable rump – but not nearly as fast as Dixie’s beer disappeared when the owner stuck his head in on proceedings. Craig’s a cheerful sort, though, and is presiding over exciting things at the rugby club; the Romans left quite a legacy, but if the club keeps combining victories with regular braais, then the future for Bath, and the South African contingent, can only be bright.