Dave Attwood is Mr West Country – no one else has a better taste of the modern Bristol-Bath rivalry.
There might as well be cider in the castle’s veins, now 34, who started in Bristol, moved to Gloucester after his first club was relegated, then moved to Bath for ten years before returning home two years ago.
Now a bear, Attwood has his playful goad for the final derby between the two old foes just 13 miles apart to the west.
Dave Attwood has a unique insight into the modern rivalry between Bristol and Bath
He still lives in Bath, he is now very much on the Bristol side of the divide, able to judge the stark differences between the parties and a conflict put on his ear by Bears’ recent revolution, re- branding and raucous return to the Premiership summit all funded by billionaire Steve Lansdown.
“It’s interesting,” Attwood says when mentioning Bristol’s newfound wealth.
“When I joined Bath in 2011, it wasn’t long after Bruce Craig came in. They had the rich owner, new facilities, everything great, but they haven’t made anything like the pop evolution Bristol has yet.
“Bristol now has new facilities, a new owner, the money, but has delivered a very different product.
“Bath’s history and heritage in the 1970s, 80s and 90s has always been something the fans have come back to.
Attwood spent ten years in Bath (left) and still lives in the city, but is now a bear (right)
‘Where Bristol is progressive, ‘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 pitch.’
Was that ‘listening back’ from Bath fans a burden in his eight-year career there?
“Absolutely,” Attwood confirms.
“What those players did for the club and achieved individually was incredible, but they played a different game. For fans to sit there and say, ‘This isn’t what we used to do! You’re doing it wrong’ was ridiculous, and I remember feeling that.
“We would have team examples showing the history of the club, not amazing things that people in the room have done, but things that players have done 10 or more years before.
Bears return to Premiership summit, all funded by billionaire Steve Lansdown (right)
“I get it, but can’t we look ahead and be expansive?
“There was an ongoing burden. Bath has achieved an incredible amount, has filled a trophy cabinet to the brim, and as a Bath fan the expectation – not recent success, but historic success – is to reflect the success of 30, 40 years ago.”
So what does Attwood think of the perception of Bristol by those Bath fans? The money-splashing noisy neighbors with the new name and flashy training ground?
“They can’t have that, because they have the same thing themselves,” he returns.
“They live in the big Georgian houses with the billionaire owner and have the beautiful training ground of the estate. What we have are the last four results.
“They can be angry. Traditionally you’d say it was the Bath poshos to the Bristol bastards who came to hunt them down, but it doesn’t work that way.
Three of Bristol’s last four wins over rivals Bath have been by huge margins
“Unfortunately, the Bath fans have had to swallow a bit of humble pie in recent seasons, while perhaps not showing Bristol the respect they deserved.”
Attwood’s personal best in these Bristol-Bath matches is impressive, a lucky charm Bristol will miss tonight after failing a late fitness test. He lost two derbies in 13 for both sides, although he has mixed memories.
‘My senior rugby debut in 2007 was in Bristol against Bath. Danny Grewcock beat me to the bone!’ he smiles.
“I came as a substitute for five minutes. The first thing I did was steal a lineout. The rest of that time, it looked like he was going to punch me in the face with every ruck. It took me five minutes and he must have hit me seven times!
“The opening game a few seasons ago when I came to Bristol from Bath in 2019 we started against them, Zach Mercer caught it and I grabbed his bag and took off with the ball. That was especially special because I was from Bath.
‘It’s nice to follow its evolution. With Bath when Bristol promoted, we gave them a big blow, which was to be expected in their first year back in the Premiership.
Attwood remembers Danny Grewcock (right) beating him in his first derby
“Now as a tough guy on the other side it’s nice to have a track record of handing out the thumps!”
Thumping is right. Three of Bristol’s last four wins at Bath have been huge – 48-3 (a record win), 40-20 at the Rec and 43-16 – with a more modest 19-13 win in between.
But Friday night may be different. Both sides are scoreless and desperate not to end the evening with a hat-trick of early defeats. Attwood knows it’s going to be emotionally charged, and that’s absolutely fine.
“There will be very strong words, some clear messages with an awful lot of conviction, and the curse-o-meter will probably tick once or twice!” he smiles.
“The emotion in these weeks is so clear, so clear that it’s very powerful.
“We have no sense of entitlement, we are not in the way of form where we can say that we are going to win this game, that is ridiculous.
“Hopefully there will be a free-flowing, utopian, attractive rugby, but in reality there will probably be a great deal of confrontational, aggressive, pragmatic rugby with two teams desperate for new momentum.
“It’s appealing to the neutrals, but the reality can be quite messy and lots of grown-ups running into each other.
Attwood expects a fiery affair and many strong words between the players on Friday