Richards returns in Tigers' hour of need

RUGBY UNION: Leicester skipper back for Courage League showdown with Bath while Cardiff could be crowned champions of Wales
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The Independent Online
Defeat by Wasps rudely reminded Bath not to take anything for granted and, even if they beat Leicester in this afternoon's critical First Division match at Welford Road, rest assured they will not do so. Mind you, neither will Leicester if they beat Bath.

That said, the Courage Clubs' Championship in effect rests on this one encounter between leading sides who are separated only by points difference, in which Bath's superiority after 15 games and with three to go is all of 10. "The winners will truly deserve to be champions," Tony Russ, Leicester's coaching director, said.

On the other hand Bath remain understandably cautious since they still have Harlequins and Sale to play. Sale and Bristol remain for Russ's Tigers. "If we win," Brian Ashton, the Bath coach, cautioned, "I will be quickly pointing out that the championship isn't guaranteed." A further complication is that Bath and Leicester still have to rest most of their England World Cup players.

Thus having taken up their allocation of two from four April First Division fixtures, Neil Back and Tony Underwood of Leicester, as well as Victor Ubogu and Phil de Glanville of Bath, will not make any further league appearances, though Ubogu and de Glanville will be free to play in the cup final against Wasps in three weeks.

Dean Richards might have preferred a more gentle reintroduction than Bath of all teams will allow after his month's absence with a rib injury suffered for England against Scotland. But there is no doubting his galvanic effect on team-mates and if ever Leicester needed galvanising, what with their exit from the cup and their generally uncertain form, it is now.

The Tigers will be roared on by an all-ticket full house of 14,000, which would have been as many as the 22,500 Leicester City can accommodate a quarter of a mile away for the visit of Manchester United if space had permitted.

Down among the not-quite-dead men the England diktat could yet have profound implications. Tim Rodber and Martin Bayfield play for Northampton at Gloucester and will not be eligible to see the season out at West Hartlepool.

As West, home to Sale today, are a point above the Saints, the ramifications of Northampton's selection will be serious should Gloucester alleviate their own relegation anxiety by winning today. Meanwhile Harlequins, ahead of West on points difference, pick their England trio - Carling, Leonard and Moore - to face Orrell. All will then have one game to play and will probably be reserved for Quins' trip to Gloucester at season's end.

In Wales, the Heineken League title will be formally Cardiff's if Pontypridd fail to beat Llanelli. The Barbarians' Easter tour, once four matches, is now down to one - today's at the Arms Park - and for Cardiff what was once the prestige fixture of the season is now unimportant compared with league games.



P W D L F A Pts

Bath 15 11 3 1 314 177 25

Leicester 15 12 1 2 332 205 25

Wasps 15 11 0 4 377 254 22

Sale 15 6 2 7 282 287 14

Bristol 15 7 0 8 271 292 14

Orrell 15 5 3 7 178 231 13

Gloucester 15 5 1 9 224 252 11

Harlequins 15 4 1 10 200 296 9

W Hartlepool 15 4 1 10 260 362 9 Northampton 15 4 0 11 214 296 8