Leicester see a chink of light

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The Independent Online
In between the unpleasantries between the Rugby Football Union and its biggest clubs, there is occasionally the light relief of some rugby. Gloucester's midweek defeat of Bath was a thrilling end in itself but also the means by which championship and relegation issues that were beginning to be settled have suddenly reopened.

So this afternoon Leicester go to Bristol in the unexpected knowledge that, provided they win their four remaining games, Bath too will need to win their three in order to regain the title - and even then it would be only on points difference.

Bath have, however, been this way before and the previous years of the Courage league have shown them to have formidable powers of instant recuperation. Saracens are no less frantic about relegation than Gloucester, or since Wednesday Bristol, but it is their ill-fortune to have to face Bath now.

"Saracens have given us problems in the past," Phil de Glanville, the Bath captain, said yesterday recalling the defeat at Southgate that cost them the title five years ago. "But we are at our most dangerous when responding to defeat." Saracens, by the way, were well represented at Kingsholm to see how it can be done.

Though Jonathan Callard, the full-back's place-kicking critically absent from Gloucester, is available for Bath, Jeremy Guscott is still on a TV assignment in South Africa, prompting a move from wing to centre for Adedayo Adebayo and from centre to outside-half for Mike Catt to the exclusion of Richard Butland.

Bristol went below Gloucester as a result of Wednesday's events but have the important advantage of a game in hand over both Gloucester and Saracens and at the end of the season would anticipate winning, as everyone else, has at West Hartlepool, who are already relegated. Today they will not be pleased to see the return after injury of Leicester's captain, Dean Richards.

If Richard Hill, the Gloucester coach, gets his players playing against Harlequins at The Stoop as they did against Bath in the less refined setting of Kingsholm, it will be an achievement to rank with any in his playing career with Bath and England.

It will be no less difficult, with Quins certain of a European place whoever is organising next season's club competitions and another daunting visit to Leicester next up for Gloucester on Wednesday week, before the prospectively decisive encounter with Saracens in a fortnight.



P W D L F A Pts

Bath 15 13 0 2 472 212 26

Leicester 14 12 0 2 354 176 24

Harlequins 16 11 0 5 470 276 22

Wasps 15 8 0 7 302 291 16

Sale 15 8 0 7 273 288 16

Orrell 15 7 0 8 270 353 14

Gloucester 15 5 0 10 233 299 10

Bristol 14 5 0 9 213 330 10

Saracens 15 5 0 10 252 392 10

W Hartlepool 14 0 0 14 245 467 0