Rugby Union: Bath content to all Catt as stand-in for Guscott: Ryan at lock is key for Wasps as they face a crucial confrontation with their 100 per cent league rivals

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The Independent Online
WHO else but Bath could lose a player of the calibre of Jeremy Guscott the day before a critical First Division match and simply shrug their shoulders? Enter yet again, against Wasps at Sudbury this afternoon, a happy Mike Catt.

This season's Courage Clubs' Championship is only four games old but the England squad's resident South African has already filled in for Guscott at centre and Stuart Barnes at outside-half. He would have been in Tony Swift's wing position last week if Barnes, too, had not dropped out against Gloucester.

Guscott missed the first two of Bath's league games, against Bristol and Northampton, appeared in the next two, against Orrell and Gloucester, and having had a scan to try to pinpoint the groin injury that has got no better he has decided that rest is the best way to recuperate.

He has three weeks before the South-West play New Zealand and seven before the Test match at Twickenham and can hardly complain if the England management's concern about his fitness is beginning to grow.

If today's is an important match for Bath, the First Division's only 100 per cent team, you could argue that it is absolutely vital for Wasps, who led throughout last season until they lost at Bath in March. Fran Clough, controversially sent off that day after a contretemps with Guscott, is replaced by Graham Childs in the Wasps centre today.

The extension of the league programme to 18 fixtures from 12 is supposed to mean an occasional defeat is tolerable. But, given the way Bath have been going, two defeats by this early stage would be intolerable and Wasps could not afford to lose further ground by following last Saturday's at Leicester with another by Bath.

Wasps' response to the Leicester misadventure is to switch their captain Dean Ryan from No 8, which he likes, to lock, which he hates. For Ryan, January, when the Canada captain Norman Hadley becomes eligible, cannot come soon enough.

Leicester have a favourable chance of maintaining the pressure on Bath by winning at Newcastle Gosforth, who have been persuaded to make five changes by their heavy defeat by Harlequins and their persistent failure to win. Notably, the half-backs - Steve Douglas, an England tourist in Canada, and David Johnson, the heaviest scorer in English rugby last season - have been dropped.

Northampton, like Leicester two points behind, face Harlequins and more particularly Brian Moore at The Stoop. It is fair to say Jamie Salmon, Quins' team manager, is not the England hooker's best mate after his exclusion from the trek to Newcastle in favour of the England Under-21 player Paul Simmonds.

In Wales the proximity of next Saturday's Japanese Test entails the postponement of the business end of the Heineken League. The way the tour has limped along - two drubbings and a sending-off in the one-point win at Dunvant - suggests that Japan's encounter with West Wales at Narberth has all the allure of a wet Wednesday in Abertillery. Which is precisely what they had three days ago.

Gavin Hastings, the captain of the Lions and Scotland, makes his season's bow today. Although Watsonians, bottom of the McEwan's League First Division, desperately need his inspiration against the leaders, Stirling County, the full- back's return will also be useful in developing his fitness a fortnight before he plays in Naas Botha's testimonial in South Africa.

Paul Henderson, who was in Wales with New Zealand in 1989 until an ankle injury put him out of the tour, is the surprise choice to replace the injured Michael Jones on the All Blacks' forthcoming tour of England and Scotland. Henderson, who led Southland against the Lions in June, was preferred to Duane Monkley of Waikato and Josh Kronfeld of Otago.

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