When times are hard, people often take consolation in gallows humour. Judging by the make up of the leadership group which Bath put together following their summer from hell, they seem to have adopted a policy of: it is better to laugh than cry. The five-man team was conceived in a bid to get the club back on track in the wake of the drugs scandal which cost them a variety of senior players at the end of last season.
However, it sounds more like a comedy club than a leadership group. "I am definitely the funniest bloke in the squad," said David Flatman, Bath's England prop, who is a member of the newly- established panel. "Rugby boys generally have a different sense of humour. We get grumpy, and we get angry when we are not selected, but most of the time during the day, we are smiling. "Everyone in the changing room adds to the humour in their own way, except [the lock] Danny Grewcock, who is the most boring man in the whole league."
One practical joke backfired at the Recreation Ground last week, but they carry on, undeterred. "A lot of the boys, when you reach the age we are at get engaged, get married and have babies," added Flatman, 29. "It means the lads that don't, who don't feel they are ready yet with their respective girlfriends, we put a lot of pressure on them. "Last week we decided to announce one of our player's engagement in the players page in the programme, in front of 12,000 people.
"We assumed his partner would take it as a joke. She didn't. It hasn't been a great week for him. This week we are going to announce Dave Barnes' girlfriend is pregnant. She's not." Barnes, the players' union chairman, is another member of the leadership group. And easy prey, according to Flatman. "Dave Barnes is probably the biggest practical joker in the club. He is like a 12-year-old. He does not plot complex, multi-layered practical jokes.
"If you leave your phone lying around it is gone and he is texting your mum, or [the England manager] Martin Johnson saying, 'Why aren't you picking me?' But we've all done that." Bath have not been laughing all the time. They go into tomorrow's match with Leicester with just one win from three games, and they are likely to be ninth in the table by then, following Newcastle's game with Harlequins tonight.
Flatman has been highly regarded since he first burst on the scene as a teenage prodigy, having played in the same schoolboy pack as the England giant Andrew Sheridan while at Dulwich College. However, he has managed just eight England caps in the nine years since he made his debut, due to a variety of serious injuries which would have put lesser men out of the game for good. He would relish a call from Johnson, but says that talk is cheap. "They'll pick who they think is best," is his matter-of-fact take on his prospects of a recall.
"When you have guys who have spent their whole life being tough and confrontational in charge, I don't think it helps when people write that you should be in the England team. I had a decent season last year, but if the blokes at the top think somebody is playing better, that's it. "I'm not going to sulk about it. "I am certainly working harder than I have ever worked. If there are 20 or 30 injuries and I get the nod, I'll hopefully do the shirt justice."