Guscott's return brings renewed lease of life for Bath

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Obituaries marking the sudden demise of Bath as the dominant power in English rugby were clearly premature. Having started the campaign in Old Mother Hubbard mode - early-season injuries to umpteen internationals gave the Recreation Ground cupboard a distinctly barren appearance - the fiercely competitive West Countrymen are back in the land of plenty.

Tomorrow afternoon's Heineken Cup tussle with a relatively lightweight Scottish Borders outfit at Hawick signals the return of Jeremy Guscott. The Lions superhero has spent more time smiling sweetly at television cameras than smirking condescendingly at bewildered opposition defences of late but, now that he has recovered from the broken arm suffered during the final Test with the Springboks in July, he feels ready for something a little more strenuous.

Guscott plays alongside Phil de Glanville against the Scots, which means a move inside to stand-off for Mike Catt and a rather more depressing move to the bench for Richard Butland, who contributed handsomely to the victories at Harlequins and Pontypridd over the last fortnight. It remains to be seen whether Catt will get another run at centre now that Guscott is back on the scene; his performance there against Ponty lent credence to the theory that the No 12 shirt fits him far better than the No 10, but unless injuries strike hard we may never find out for sure.

Wasps, who also won in Wales last week, face Glasgow at the Scotstoun Stadium and field Kenny Logan on the left wing against his old district. The hosts welcome back their international centre, Ian Jardine, after a seemingly endless injury lay-off, but their chances of embellishing their unexpected win in Ulster with a second pool victory are remote to say the least.

The most obviously competitive tie of the weekend - in Britain at least - takes place at the Stoop this afternoon. Harlequins, close to full strength with Keith Wood restored to the front row and Rory Jenkins back among the loose forwards, lock horns with the unknown quantities of Bourgoin, who not only won last year's European Conference title and finished runners- up in the French championship but were good enough to see off an expensively recruited Cardiff side in their opening Heineken match last weekend.

On the face of it, Quins should go in against Marc Cecillon's merry musketeers far better prepared than most; after all, Laurent Belligoi, their new 6ft 2in wing, played for Bourgoin last season. Things are not that straightforward, however. Belligoi's English is roughly comparable to captain Wood's French - that is to say, virtually non-existent - so the potential for a faux pas or two is rich indeed.

Thanks to Jim Staples' serious back injury, which required a scan on Wednesday, Jamie Williams is the only fit and eligible full-back available. Bourgoin have no such problems and include the outstanding Tricolore threequarters Stephane Glas and Laurent Leflemand.

The Welsh contingent face a testing 48 hours. Cardiff and Swansea are desperate for home wins over Munster and Ulster respectively, Pontypridd travel to Brive, the champions from France who are unbeaten in eight Heineken Cup outings, while Llanelli pay an unenviable visit to Pau without two of their Test backs, Nigel Davies and Wayne Procter.

Bristol, meanwhile, have appointed the former international referee Fred Howard as their new rugby manager. The retired schoolmaster replaces Ralph Knibbs, who has taken on a coaching role at Coventry.

Comments