Rugby Union: Bath and Swansea a point away: Titles at stake

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The Independent Online
A POINT apiece this afternoon will give Bath and Swansea their respective championships, always supposing Harlequins and Aberavon are amenable, and leave some of us wistful for the days when Anglo-Welsh club rivalry - Bath v Swansea for instance - meant something. If only. . .

Alas, there are too many vested interests opposed to the establishment of a competitive cross-border relationship, too many people happy to sit tight in an isolationist cocoon. It would not suit England, we are told, but perhaps what we should ask ourselves is whether it would suit, and perhaps even benefit, the game of rugby.

Hard reality will overtake this wishful / wistful thinking when Bath receive Harlequins, not normally the calibre of opposition the champions would prefer for such a critical match. But Quins are in some disarray after four successive defeats which included the epic cup semi-final against Bath three weeks ago.

The aftershock of that heroic effort has been exactly as nervously predicted by Jamie Salmon, the Quins manager, who has grown so disillusioned with his team's perpetual under-achievement that he has been seriously considering his position.

As it is, he will 'soldier on', as he puts it, and if his team need any motivation they have it in playing at the Recreation Ground, where enigmatic performances tend to be punished. The trouble is that Jason Leonard and Brian Moore, Quins' England front-row men, are missing.

Bath have their own important absentee in Mike Catt, the feisty South African who has been booked a passage home with England next month. Catt's twisted ankle also threatens his participation in the cup final against Leicester in a fortnight and in the meantime Phil de Glanville has his fifth centre partner of the season: Adedayo Adebayo, picked for the England tour as a wing.

With Jonathan Callard and Paul Hull called to tomorrow's England session at Twickenham, today's games are vital for their prospects of filling the full-back vacancy left by Ian Hunter's withdrawal, though Callard's place-kicking gives him an important edge which will be accentuated if he adds significantly to his 309 points for Bath against Quins.

If Bath draw, it will secure their fourth consecutive league title and the modest Courage trophy will be at the Rec in readiness. A similar result for Swansea against Aberavon at St Helen's will make them the first club to win the Heineken League twice and, with only three defeats in all matches this season, they are beginning to achieve Bath-style consistency.

The match that matters most in Wales, however, is at Pontypool, where a win for Dunvant will keep them up and condemn one of Welsh rugby's most famous clubs to the comparative oblivion of relegation. Even their chairman, the old Wales lock John Perkins, admits there would be no way back.

This may be overstating the case but, bearing in mind a reputation built through the Seventies and up to the late Eighties when Pontypool were perennially superior to other Welsh clubs, it is readily understandable why Bobby Windsor, their embattled coach, is willing even to risk the wrath of Mrs Windsor in order to be present.

Windsor, one of the great hookers, will be the only 1974 Lion to miss a 20-year reunion in Ireland of their victory against the Springboks under Willie John McBride's captaincy. 'My wife is playing holy hell,' Windsor said, 'but this is the biggest game in Pontypool's history.'

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