Under any other circumstances, it would be billed as an occasion to get the teeth into. Newcastle, brimming with confidence and unbeaten swagger, take on Bath, still reeling from the effects of another traumatic week in the sporting dock but invigorated by the return of Jeremy Guscott to their midfield, in a match that should reveal pretty much everything about both clubs.
Such is the interest in tomorrow's encounter that Newcastle have abandoned their trusty Kingston Park homestead and taken up temporary residence at the Gateshead International Stadium.
Guscott's presence should put another thousand or so on the gate; England are so desperate to welcome him back into the international fold that the entire Twickenham hierarchy will probably make the trip north, just to make sure the Golden One is as fit as everyone hopes. Even Tony Swift, the embattled Bath chief executive who had just endured a hellish week on the ear-biting front, managed a smile yesterday. "With Jerry in midfield, we've got a back line to die for," he chirped.
That is undeniably true. Bath can now afford to switch Matt Perry to his England position of full-back, pair Guscott with Phil de Glanville in the centre, run Ieuan Evans and Adedayo Adebayo on the wings and restore Mike Catt to the stand-off berth in what amounts to an attacking payload of rugby nitroglycerine just waiting to explode. All they need is the ball.
Which is, of course, the problem. Newcastle's one-paced but highly capable pack have been a revelation this season and with Ross Nesdale, Garath Archer, Pat Lam and Dean Ryan in such combative form, it is difficult to see how Bath can achieve parity in the bump and grind department. "What has happened at Bath in the last week is something for them to deal with, but I'm sure it will make them all the more determined," Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, said.
Although Guscott is once again in the Test equation, the England selectors will be concerned at the absence of Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill from this weekend's activity. Dallaglio misses Wasps' trip to Leicester this afternoon because of the bruised right shoulder he has been carrying for weeks, while Hill's increasingly worrying hamstring problems keep him out of Saracens' home match with Sale tomorrow.Reuse content