Quins facing first true test

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The Independent Online
The cricket season is over for Harlequins. They may be averaging 60 points per game but Dick Best, their director of coaching, is a cautious man.

Despite his side's cracking start to the season in which they have run- up some big scores, he is not taking for granted an extension to that run of three wins out of three when the Courage League One leaders take on fourth-placed Bristol.

"We've had a good start," admitted Best, "but, with the greatest respect to the other three clubs we have played, Gloucester should really have gone down last season, West Hartlepool definitely should have been relegated and London Irish have come up. So in many respects this match against Bristol is the first real big test for us.

"We are coming up against a very organised team. They are effective. Any team Alan Davies is involved with is always very well organised defensively and scores points. They've always had a formidable pack, they base their rugby around it, they have a good back-row, international half-backs and they are pretty strong in midfield, while outside they have this Tongan Dave Tiueti. We are fully aware that we are up against it."

Much will depend on the centre pairing of rugby league star Gary Connolly and the former England captain Will Carling - the latter will be playing his fourth successive league match prompting Best to remark: "That must be something of a record."

One run Bath's players will want to avoid today when they take themselves off to Kingsholm, is an unprecedented clutch of defeats. They have lost their last two League games and if they succumb to Gloucester it will be the first time they will have lost three in a row since the start of the Courage League. Kingsholm was scene of a surprise defeat for Bath towards the end of last season.

The Bath captain, Phil de Glanville, unhappy at being dropped for last week's match against Wasps, is back in the side for the injured Henry Paul.

A forgotten England man, Ian Hunter, plays his first League match of the season at full-back when Northampton entertain Orrell, who will themselves be without their rugby league signing Frano Botica - the subject of a transfer wrangle with Llanelli - because of a hip injury. Martin Offiah's long awaited debut for Second Division Bedford has been put on ice, like his injured big toe, for a further two weeks.

The RFU's dispute with England's leading clubs is likely to be moved to a higher level as the governing bodies of Wales and Scotland find themselves in conflict with their member clubs. The English Professional Rugby Union Clubs are calling for the differences to be discussed by the Four Home Unions rather than by individual governing bodies and they want a peace broker appointed who will oversee all aspects of the hearing. The International Board chairman, Vernon Pugh, is seen to be the ideal candidate.