Rugby Union: Bath still in running for Premiership title insists Robinson

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The Independent Online
ANDY ROBINSON, the Bath coach, insists his European champions can still steal the Allied Dunbar Premiership title from under the noses of Newcastle and Saracens, even though the two favourites have an eight-point cushion on which to rest their expensively recruited backsides. However, a Bath victory over Wasps at the Recreation Ground this afternoon will do more than lend weight to Robbo's optimism. It will also expose one of his more controversial arguments as so much stuff and nonsense.

Robinson remains a passionate supporter of the Heineken Cup, despite the boycott unanimously declared by the 12 top-flight Premiership teams. He does not, however, subscribe to the theory that European pool matches should be played in midweek - a measure that would solve the English club's ruinous beef over fixture scheduling at a stroke. "Rugby doesn't lend itself to three games a week," he says. "It can't be done."

Others believe it can, however, and they will point to Bath's current hot streak as primary evidence. The West Countrymen had several key players on international duty in France, Ireland and Wales last weekend, but that did not stop them sticking 47 points on Gloucester at the Rec on Wednesday night. Another vintage effort against Lawrence Dallaglio's half-baked Wasps outfit today will prove that with sensible selection and intelligent use of substitutes, the best sides can indeed survive the occasional three- day working week.

Richard Webster, an influential figure in the defeat of the Cherry and Whites, misses this afternoon's game after undergoing knee surgery and is replaced by Eric Peters, who scored three tries in an 11-minute cameo against Gloucester. "I won't give up on the title until it's mathematically impossible for us to win it," said Robinson, "we've got a run of home matches now. Our season has only just started."

Saracens, second to Newcastle on points difference, expect a banker victory at struggling Bristol while the Geordies should see off Harlequins at Kingston Park tomorrow, especially as a hamstring injury has deprived the Londoners of Thierry Lacroix's cultured services at stand-off.

It may well be that another foreign import, Garry Pagel, will deprive Gloucester's Phil Vickery of a possible England debut against Wales next weekend. Northampton's mountainous Springbok prop had the youngster on toast at Franklin's Gardens three weeks ago and although Vickery has shown an unusual capacity to learn new tricks on the run, he cannot expect much change out of Pagel at Kingsholm this afternoon.

"Phil is one-nil down to Pagel at the moment, that's for sure," admitted Richard Hill, the Gloucester coach, yesterday. "But he's only 60 per cent of the player I believe he'll become. We'll know a lot more about him after today's match but if England are looking at him as their World Cup tight-head next year, he needs to play as many internationals as possible to prepare himself."

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