MIKE Tindall is no stranger to West Country derbies.
During a career that has spanned 17 years the former England centre has sat on both sides of the fence – first for Gloucester’s great rivals Bath and since 2005 in the famous cherry and white.
There’s little doubt the age old rivalry has changed since the sides first met but Tindall, who is poised for his 21st appearance in the local derby, the passion remains unchanged.
He said: “It’s not just a special one for me – obviously I have sat on both sides of it which makes it a bit unique.
“But it’s special for all the boys. The great thing about rugby is local rivalry.
“It pre-dates professionalism, it’s something special for fans and it’s something they have endured since the amateur era where you wouldn’t speak to Bath fans or players.
“I guarantee the first thing 90 per cent of season ticket holders will look at on the fixture list is when Bath come to here. That’s the one game we simply have to win.
“No disrespect to Worcester but Bath and Gloucester have always been at the top historically, it’s always been a battle and it’s the one game that matters most.
“It’s always been a massive game, it’s always noisy, it’s always going to be a sold out crowd and you know that weeks in advance.
“There’s always an email that goes round two months before Bath that we’re going to be sold-out and if you want tickets let us know.
“When I first started we were just coming out of the amateur era and professionalism hadn’t really changed the game. Back then with those derbies a lot of local lads still played for the teams and it was great.
“Unfortunately with professionalism you get a lot of people moving around, you get transfers between clubs which you didn’t have in those amateur days.
“It’s more accepted now because of the way that professional sport is, but when you turn up on a Saturday that all goes out the window and it’s all about bottle.”
By the time Tindall crossed the great divide the stigma of joining the enemy had largely diminished thanks to the likes of Rob Fidler.
The centre has always thrived in hostile environments and he fondly remembers his first visit to an intimidating Kingsholm caldron.
Bath will undoubtedly be aiming to silence the Cherry and Whites’ supporters, but Tindall knows Gloucester must harness the energy and pile the pressure on their old foes.
He said: “I loved going to Kingsholm as a Bath player. Whether that’s my mentality or competitive edge I don’t know but I just love going to environments like that.
“When I played for Bath I would always run in front of the Shed, just to get a taste for it.
“It’s always good banter and I’ve been very lucky that they’ve taken me in as a Gloucester player.
“But I like going to grounds where you know if you outplay them you can silence their crowd and that’s what Bath will want to do.
“The Shed wants the opposition to play poorly, which is great for us and we’ve got to use what they give us as extra motivation to keep them happy and in the game.”
Gloucester are sure to come under immense forward pressure today, with Bath’s success this season built largely upon a powerful, dominant pack.
But Tindall is well aware that Gloucester cannot afford to underestimate a Bath back line studded with some of the brightest emerging stars in the game.
He added: “They have quality right through their back line and it will be a challenge for us.
“You look at George Ford and what he has done this year and then their whole back line with the likes of Kyle Eastmond, Ollie Devoto, Anthony Watson, Nick Abendanon, who has been outstanding for five years.
“You really can’t underestimate their backs. They have so many individuals who can finish things off, but so have we.
“They will also be worrying about us. We have quality as well and we should see that as a personal battle between us.”
And it is safe to say that today will not be the last West Country battle that Tindall enters.
The 35-year-old’s contract as a player/coach expires in the summer but he fully expects to remain at Kingsholm.
The finer details of a new deal are currently being ironed out, and it is just a question of whether the World Cup winner goes to war on the battlefield or commands Gloucester’s assaults from the stands.
One thing that is sure is that evergreen Tindall’s thirst for blood and thunder remains unquenchable.