Pears prepared to put his body at risk to break Bath

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The Independent Online
Harlequins are taking quite a risk in hastening the reintroduction of David Pears at outside-half in this afternoon's Pilkington Cup semi-final against Bath, the holders, at The Stoop. It is little more than a year, but seems an eternity, since he was England's first-choice full-back.

This risk element has nothing to do with the merits of the player; even though he has not played since September, Pears could be said to be the safe option given Paul Challinor's form of late. Indeed, with England frantic to find an outside-half for the future, he may yet be that man.

This, however, depends on the shape of Pears' ever-vulnerable body. The risk involves Pears himself and the awkward reality that every time he runs on to a rugby field he appears to be taking a risk with injury. The most recent is a chronic groin problem which goes back to a visit by Quins to Dublin.

"David has been uppermost in our minds from the beginning of the season," Keith Richardson, the Harlequins coach, said yesterday. "He has come through both fitness and opposed training sessions with flying colours and we wouldn't have selected him unless we believed the decision to be the right one.''

This time last week Dick Best, Quins' director of rugby, was musing on picking Pears but thought it would take another fortnight. Never mind that, last Saturday's relegation dogfight against Northampton persuaded him to act now. So after the injuries to neck, back, jaw, groin, knee, hand and finally groin again that have interrupted the past two and a half years, Pears - still only 27 - is back. For now.

In the other semi-final, at Welford Road, Leicester anticipate a further outburst of pragmatism by Wasps, the visitors' free-ranging style having been found wanting in the league match there a month ago and having been abandoned when Wasps beat Bath last Saturday.

These days it is hard to know who to believe. Rob Smith, the Wasps coach, insisted before the Bath game that on this of all occasions it was vital to persist. But after the game had been won Dean Ryan, the victorious captain, said that in the event they had always intended to draw in their attacking horns.

Whatever anyone says, we can take it Leicester will not be seduced. "I'm expecting Wasps to modify their all-out style," Tony Russ, the Tigers' coaching director, said. "It hasn't got them anywhere in the two previous fixtures against us. You know what's coming, so provided you are organised in your tackling and they don't have a plan B it's easier to defend against. But I expect them to bring a plan B to the semi-final and that would pose vastly more problems.''

Russ enjoys the comforting knowledge that, as Leicester lead the league, they will complete the double - hitherto exclusive to Bath - if they win their six remaining fixtures. But Smith has comforting knowledge, too: that Dean Richards is not fit to play for Leicester.

"There is no plot to mislead people about the way we want to play," the coach said. "We've been playing running rugby in the wind, rain and mud and sometimes, not least against Leicester, we found we couldn't get the quality ball which this depends on. If we can't get that ball, we're not going to commit hara-kiri.''

This begs the question of what is the more likely way of committing hara- kiri against the Tigers, running at them wide or at close quarters? Dare one suggest the latter? The same is probably true of Harlequins against Bath, who evidently will go to any lengths to put their recent poor form behind them. "Whatever XV they field," Best said, "will literally die for the cause.''

STOOP TEAMS

Harlequins: J Staples; P Mensah, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin; J Leonard, B Moore (capt), A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Watson, C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Bath: J Callard; A Swift, P de Glanville, J Guscott, J Sleightholme; M Catt, I Sanders; K Yates, G Dawe, J Mallett, M Haag, N Redman, J Hall (capt), B Clarke, S Ojomoh.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).

WELFORD ROAD TEAMS

Leicester: J Liley; T Underwood, S Potter, D Edwards, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells (capt), C Tarbuck, N Back.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Roiser, D Hopley, G Childs, P Hopley; R Andrew, S Bates; N Popplewell, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, N Hadley, L Dallaglio, D Ryan (capt), M White.

Referee: S Lander (Irby, Wirral).

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