Rugby Union: Bath at loose end after Lyle injury

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GOOD back rows tend to stick together, but Bath's all-international loose trio have taken their inseparability to ludicrous extremes. With Richard Webster and Nathan Thomas, the Welsh flankers, already recovering from surgery on injured knees, the third member of the European champions' imported triumvirate, Dan Lyle, came out in sympathy yesterday by ruling himself out of all rugby for the rest of the season.

The uniquely athletic No 8 from the United States twisted a knee during last weekend's Allied Dunbar Premiership victory over Wasps and specialists have now diagnosed a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament. The damage is so extensive that Lyle has been advised to catch the first flight back across the Atlantic and rest up for a minimum of three months.

Given that Webster is still convalescing after keyhole surgery and Thomas has only just had the plaster removed following his own knee operation, Lyle's seasonal demise leaves the selectors in serious difficulties. They must now be wishing they had kept Steve Ojomoh, who played for England in all three back-row positions, at the Rec instead of letting him slip away to Gloucester before Christmas.

Bath, who still consider themselves realistic contenders for the Premiership title, can call on the experience of Eric Peters, the former Scotland No 8, to help them out of their current hole. They are chronically short of flankers, however. Russell Earnshaw will fill one berth against Harlequins this weekend, with either Benoit Durand, a rookie signing from France, or Richard Bryan, a local product from Colston's School, playing the blind- side role.

Neath, meanwhile, are having all manner of fun with one of their own loose forwards, the Fijian international Tomasi Tamanivula. A 31-year- old No 8, Tamanivula is claiming unfair dismissal against the Welsh premiership side and has taken them to an industrial tribunal in Cardiff.

Signed by Neath on a two-year contract last July, Tamanivula was labelled surplus to requirements after only two months. The player is challenging Neath's claim that an eight-week trial period was built into the deal. The hearing continues.