Rugby Union: Quins given Cup opportunity to atone for their midweek misery

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The Independent Online
The storms of the last 36 hours have disrupted the weekend's Tetley's Bitter Cup ties. David Llewellyn discovers what's on and what's not.

The heavy rain and gales have taken their toll with three Tetley's Bitter Cup matches called off and two further games facing inspections. The postponed ties will be played on 10 January, which will cause League matches for that date to be rearranged, and in a season top heavy with fixtures the backlog can only add to individual clubs' problems.

Leicester, last year's finalists, and Sale must kick their heels after the ties at Coventry and Moseley respectively were called off, and the waterlogged West Midlands lost another match, that between Rugby and Reading. There are doubts about Bath's tie at home to London Scottish, overnight rain is the worry, and if there is any there will be inspection at 8.30 by referee Steve Lander.

There is another inspection, at 12.30pm, to see if Worcester can proceed against Bristol tomorrow, while a decision will be made tomorrow morning about another Sunday tie, that between Blackheath and Saracens.

The third Sunday tie between Wasps and Harlequins goes ahead at Loftus Road. Surprisingly the majority of the Quins side who slunk off in shame after the League defeat at home to Bristol in midweek, make the game. Andy Keast, their director of rugby, said yesterday: "I haven't wielded the axe for a couple of reasons.

"One, I don't have that many fit players left and secondly, I am giving a lot of people the opportunity to put right some of the things that went wrong against Bristol."

Injuries to centre Johnny Ngauamo (shoulder) and stand-off Paul Challinor (dead leg) mean places for Tulsen Tollett and Thierry Lacroix, while the return to fitness of hooker Tom Billups sees Paul Delaney drop to the bench. Wing Dan Luger drops to the replacements' bench as do utility back Rob Liley and lock Luke Gross. The tight-head spot will decided later, it rests between Alan Yates and Ricky Nebbett.

Newcastle's match at home to Second Division Exeter goes ahead despite the Allied Dunbar Premiership leaders discovering that their main stand had suffered damage during the Christmas Eve gales.

Gloucester are taking no chances down at Old Deer Park. They are determined to feature in Monday's fifth-round draw and have been doing their homework on London Welsh. The Exiles have lost just once in Jewson National League One, which they lead by a point, with the solitary slip-up at home to Newbury.

Former Gloucester coach Keith Richardson is in charge at Newbury and Richard Hill, the present Gloucester coach, has been probing for clues as to possible areas of weakness in the Exiles' game. In addition Cup- tied wing Brian Johnson, who becomes a full-time Gloucester player tomorrow after joining the Kingsholm crew on loan from Newbury, scored a try in that match. So Gloucester are well armed with information.

They are resting their regular half-backs with Ian Sanders coming in for Scott Benton, while at stand-off Nick Osman replaces Mark Mapletoft. An injury crisis at hooker, Phil Greening (knee) and Neil McCarthy (medial ligaments) are still not fit, means third-choice Chris Fortey starts the match, with Chris Hall, 18, on the bench. London Welsh are without four key backs including stand-off Craig Raymond.

There is a local derby at Franklin's Gardens where Northampton are still without former England lock Martin Bayfield and must also do without the services of England scrum-half Matt Dawson. Bayfield, a former Bedford player, has still not fully recovered from a groin strain while Dawson suffered a shoulder injury against Wasps and Saints do not want to put either player at risk at this stage of the season.

Bedford have included the South Africa flanker Rudi Straeuli, 34, in their squad as cover for Junior Paramore. Former Natal lock Shaun Platford is expected to partner Scotland international Scott Murray in the second row.