Rugby Union: Sarries forecast a Grau day

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The Independent Online
Saracens face a severe test of their Premiership credentials tomorrow when Bath visit Vicarage Road for the most intriguing contest of the campaign so far. Chris Hewett relishes the prospect of a must-win game for both sides.

Take one heavy-duty Argentinian prop making a lucrative debut appearance on the Saracens gravy train, throw in a thoroughly fed-up Bath hooker with a reputation to restore and you have the makings of a torrid afternoon shift at the coalface of Premiership rugby. Tomorrow's meeting between Saracens, unbeaten at the top of the table, and Bath, flirting dangerously with mid-table anonymity after two defeats in five outings, may well prove a little lacking in the Christmas cheer department.

Sarries consider Roberto Grau, the Puma who caused so much disruption to the England set-piece at Twickenham a year ago, to be the missing piece in a title-challenging jigsaw. The Londoners have been seeking a genuinely destructive scrummager for some time; they thought they had it cracked when Tony Daly, the World Cup-winning Wallaby from Sydney, pitched up in north London last season, but were sadly mistaken - Daly was past it long before he pulled on a Sarries shirt - and they then found themselves priced out of the running for Garry Pagel, the South African strongman.

Everything comes to those who wait, however. Mark Evans, the club's director of rugby, believes Grau to be the Real McCoy and is even more impressed by the fact that his asking price was nowhere near that of Pagel. "We've never considered ourselves to be heavy scrummagers but it will be very interesting to see what we can do with Roberto in there," he said.

Grau will not be of much interest to the England hierarchy, of course, but the national selectors will be fascinated by Andy Long's reaction to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Dropped by England after spending a dodgy half in reverse gear against Australia last month, the rookie from the south coast slipped so quickly down the rankings that the only All Blacks he came across were of the under-21 variety.

Bath have not lost faith in him, though. He keeps Mark Regan, desperately unlucky not to regain his Test place against New Zealand, out of the side, saying: "I want to go out and show Clive that I've got a firm case for playing international rugby again. I was deeply disappointed to have been given just 40 minutes so this game could not have come at a better time."

Tim Rodber returns to lead Northampton at London Irish this afternoon while Duncan Bell, a former England under-18 prop, makes his Premiership debut for Sale at Leicester following his pounds 50,000 transfer from Ebbw Vale.

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