Rugby Union: Jenkins smooths way as Pontypridd prepare to enter Brive's den

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The Independent Online
They have blown hot and cold in their previous two meetings, now Brive and Pontypridd are poised for a shuddering third collision as they attempt to win through the Heineken Cup play-offs to the quarter-final away at Wasps next weekend. David Llewellyn looks ahead to the weekend's rugby union programme.

While English rugby introduces the 10-minute sin bin for offside and preventing release of the ball Europe stages Brive-Pontypridd III.

After two pool matches which left the sides separated by a point - the first match was won by Brive 32-31, the second was a 29-29 draw - today's decider has a great deal more hanging on it.

Pontypridd stayed overnight near Limoges, famous for its porcelain; but that is not as fragile as are relations between the two clubs after the mass brawl on the pitch, the bar-room brawl off it and subsequent banning of three Ponty players from setting foot in the Correze region until they have answered various charges brought against them for their alleged involvement in the late night fracas in Le Bar Toulzac.

While Pontypridd will be without the banned Phil John, Andre Barnard and Dale McIntosh - their appeal to have the trio allowed into the region was rejected earlier this week - Brive will have the services of flanker Lionel Mallier, the man sent off in the first clash along with McIntosh.

The French club are trying to focus on the rugby side of things and their full-back, Christophe Lamaison, said last night: "We are determined to erase the all the recent bad history, the brawling on and off the pitch and the war of words. To do that we intend putting on the sort of performance that will make the final point for us."

Pontypridd are doing their bit. Limoges is outside the Correze region and they intend spending as little time as possible in Brive. They reckon on turning around in three hours and their schedule will see them arriving in Wales at around midnight tonight.

But in those crucial three hours the game will reach critical mass and the fall-out will not be confined to those on the pitch. The very game of rugby will be judged by events at the Parc Municipal des Sports.

The Pontypridd captain, Neil Jenkins, was a model of diplomacy when he said, prior to leaving for France: "We've enjoyed two awesome matches with Brive and only one point separates us from them so in no way are we intimidated."

However, the Lion then went on to warn: "We don't want any trouble, but we will not back down. If they come out to intimidate us then we are going to stick up for ourselves.

"There is no pressure on us. No one expects us to win, which is why we can go out there and just go for broke.

"Our form has not been up to the usual standard since we last played in Brive, but I feel sorry for the team playing against us when we finally do click again."

Pontypridd flew out of Cardiff last night without their injured backs Kevin Morgan and David Manley, while the fitness of the centre Steele Lewis, wing Gareth Wyatt and lock Stuart Roy is serious enough to convince the coach, Dennis John, that he must delay selection until today.

Things do not look quite as tough for Leicester. The Tigers take on Glasgow at home, the dubious reward for the winners of this play-off is a quarter- final tie at Pau on Sunday week. Leicester have decided to run an experiment up front against the Scots. Graham Rowntree switches from loose to tight- head, to see if he can be used as a future stand-in for Darren Garforth. Perry Freshwater comes in at loose-head.

Austin Healey remains on the right wing and the Fijian genius, Wasaile Serevi, at scrum-half. That experiment, begun last week with mixed success, should prove tougher this week. Glasgow have James Craig back on the left wing and he is a very rapid runner; the spritely Healey will need overdrive to catch him.

In the Allied Dunbar Premiership, Bath could have Nathan Thomas restored to the back row for the visit of Richmond. Thomas was sent off in the first match of the season against Newcastle for stamping on Tim Stimpson. The Premiership leaders, Newcastle, have named the Lions wing John Bentley on the bench for the third successive weekend, but he could play against London Irish at Sunbury because of fitness doubts surrounding Jim Naylor and Stuart Legg.

Kyran Bracken is on the bench for Saracens against Bristol at Vicarage Road tomorrow and the England scrum-half is expected to start the match against Cambridge University at Grange Road on Tuesday along with fellow England squad member, flanker Richard Hill.