Leicester's historic trip made without a coach

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

There will definitely be a piece of history at Central Park, Wigan, this afternoon when Orrell avail themselves of their rugby league neighbours' superior facilities for a visit by Leicester which will demonstrate whether the champions can get by without Dean Richards. After last night's surprise parting of the ways Tony Russ, their coaching director, will not be in attendance.

There will also be a piece of history at the Memorial Ground, Bristol - if we are to believe Mark Regan, the England hooker, who boldly anticipates a first Bristol success in a dozen league meetings with Bath. Alas for Regan, he will not be able to contribute to this unlikely role reversal: yesterday he withdrew with a knee injury.

"I am 70 per cent fit but that's no use to me or the team," he said. "I'm gutted, especially as I feel this is a game Bristol will win." Not half as "gutted" as Leicester, two points behind Bath, would feel if in the absence of Richards, compounded by that of Neil Back at the Hong Kong Sevens, they lost.

The Tigers are now third after slipping behind Harlequins on points difference. But Leicester's and Bath's two games in hand leave them as the only realistic title contenders making it an especially anxious time to be asking the impossible of Will Johnson, even packing down behind his illustrious brother, Martin. To the 22-year-old falls the letter G normally worn by Richards.

Time was when Orrell were among Leicester's most troublesome opponents and the psychological effect of Deano's dicky knee may just rekindle the old flame in a young team. Earlier in the week Peter Williams, Orrell's rugby director, was advising his players against "making them into gods". Without their England No 8, the Tigers suddenly seem mortal.

Orrell will now be delighted if they attract a relatively modest 7,500 to Central Park - and most of those, we may be sure, would be from the East Midlands. Originally they had hoped Wigan's inaugural Super League match, helpfully switched by the rugby league champions to Oldham, would be played on Friday or Sunday in order to test the level of local support. Though Oldham is scarcely a million miles away, that well-meant idea has been undermined by Wigan's 6pm kick-off as well as the Grand National.

In Wales the much-maligned Heineken League is reaching a still more interesting conclusion with four sides in reasonable contention. Neath, whose brilliant young side have progressed with the season, will go top for the first time if they score five or more tries and beat Newport at The Gnoll.

Cardiff's games in hand over all their rivals leave them better placed than their current standing - fifth - indicates but they need to collect the anticipated bonus points against the penultimate team, Abertillery, at the Arms Park today.

There were some uneven contests on the opening day of the Hong Kong Sevens yesterday as England beat Singapore 52-0, New Zealand thrashed Sri Lanka 75-0 and Fiji won 68-12 against Thailand. The only surprise came when Scotland lost 29-19 to Argentina. Wales, France and Ireland struggled to victories in their opening games.