Bath and Leicester kept apart and on course for record-breaking final

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The Independent Online
One of the striking features of the Pilkington Cup is how the biggest guns - which in recent times have been Bath and Leicester - are never trained on each other until the final and yesterday the Rugby Football Union president, Bill Bishop, did it again when he kept the holders and league champions apart in the semi-final draw, writes Steve Bale.

The likelihood now is that Bath will go on to defend the trophy against Leicester on 4 May at Twickenham. There will be a capacity attendance of 78,000, a world record for a club game which would have been set whichever of the semi- finalists - or indeed the last eight - had got there. The final was already sold out before last Saturday's quarter-finals.

Bishop did London Irish, the first Second Division team to make the semi- finals, the favour their status deserved by pulling them out at home, although a visit to Sunbury by Leicester is hardly favourable. Bath will play Gloucester at the Recreation Ground - astonishingly, the first time in 10 semi-final appearances that the almost perennial cup-winners (nine times in 12 years) will have been at home.

Bath have won at this stage at Kingsholm three times, most recently after extra time in 1992. Gloucester, though, have suddenly become a radically different proposition from September, when they lost 37-11 at the Rec, and as recently as last season they drew there. But even so, Bath will be strongly favoured to reach their 11th final.

For London Irish, the cup run is proving a distraction, however pleasant, from the real business of their season: accompanying Northampton out of the Second Division. Their pairing with Leicester is laden with nostalgic sentiment, since it was the Tigers to whom they lost when they reached their only final in 1980, the second of Leicester's three consecutive cup wins.

Among the Tigers who faced the Irish that day in front of 61,000 fewer than will be at Twickenham 16 years on was an England centre by the name of Clive Woodward, who in his latter-day incarnation as coach of London Irish has become something of a guru of attacking rugby. It would be stretching a point to suggest Woodward knows that much these days about the club he graced, but one certain thing is that his underdogs will - in the argot of the homeland of some of them, but not Woodward - give it a lash.

Jonathan Davies's restoration among the rugby union establishment will be completed when he plays for the Barbarians against East Midlands in the Mobbs memorial match at Northampton next Wednesday, the first time he has played for the invitation club since he went to rugby league seven years ago.

Yesterday's Barbarian choice includes the entire Leicester front row as well as Ben Clarke and Lawrence Dallaglio of the England back row, but whether they go ahead and play at this busy time of the season will be in the hands of club and country, just as much as personal preference.

n Llanelli and Cardiff, the two most succesful teams in the history of the Swalec Cup - 15 titles in 24 years between them - were last night drawn together in next month's quarter-finals.

n Bristol players met at the Memorial Ground last night to discuss the club's future in the light of offers from other clubs for several of them. "I was encouraged by the views expressed," Paul Hull, the captain, said. "Money took up the least time at the meeting but we need to have further talks with club chairman Derek Brown."

PILKINGTON CUP Semi-finals: London Irish v Leicester; Bath v Gloucester. (Ties to be played 23 March).

SWALEC Cup Quarter-finals: Llanelli v Cardiff; Newbridge v Pontypridd; Newport v Caerphilly or SW Police; Neath v Cardiff Institute or Dunvant. (Ties to be played 23 March).