Rugby Union: Bath morale given boost by Webster

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The Independent Online
EITHER RICHARD Webster is going daft in his old age, or he really is as hard as his clubmates allege. The Bath captain believes he will be fit to face his old muckers from Swansea in a so-called "rebel" match at St Helen's on Boxing Day, even though he fractured his eye socket - or rather, had his eye socket fractured for him - in last weekend's Premiership defeat by Northampton.

The West Countrymen have become so closely acquainted with desperate injury misfortune in recent weeks that they fully anticipated spending the next two months without Webster's unique brand of heart-on-the-sleeve leadership. However, the former Lions flanker and rugby league professional insists he has it on good medical authority that the injury will heal quickly enough to give him a chance of facing his former brethren from West Wales.

Bath have the small matter of Saturday's home game with Saracens to worry about first, though, and they must attempt to halt their sharp descent of the table without the services of another international forward, Mark Regan. The former England hooker was concussed during an unforgiving first half against Northampton - "I ran into Tim Rodber and I've still got the headache," he said yesterday - and must serve a mandatory three weeks on the sidelines. The only good news for Andy Robinson, the harassed Bath coach, is that another recently concussed Test player, Matt Perry, is available again at full-back.

Two years of committee room strife have left the entire rugby world suffering from a form of concussion and the symptoms are likely to grow more pronounced today as the International Board lock briefcases with the Rugby Football Union at a disciplinary bun-fight in Dublin. The RFU, summoned to answer charges ranging from rank insubordination to managerial impotence, are represented by Francis Baron, its new chief executive, and a bevy of lawyers and while Vernon Pugh, the IB chairman, insisted that "common sense would prevail", no one was counting on it.

Meanwhile, Scotland announced the details of a four-match World Cup shakedown in South Africa next summer. The itinerary had one obvious merit - the very noticeable absence of a fixture against the Springboks - but will nevertheless be quite testing enough, thank you very much. Matches against Natal and the Blue Bulls of Northern Transvaal are no one's idea of a picnic and the MTN Falcons are among the most capable of the developing Currie Cup provinces. Only Northern Free State, against whom the Scots open their tour on 16 June, will be considered eminently beatable.

Scotland's crisis club, Stirling County, have appointed the former national coach, Richie Dixon, as their temporary head of team affairs while they search for a long-term successor to Paul McKeany, the New Zealander who quit after last weekend's calamitous home defeat by Boroughmuir.

"I have far too much on my plate at Murrayfield to consider taking on a permanent role at Stirling," said Dixon, who is heavily involved in a variety of Scottish Rugby Union projects. "But I will not see them stuck and I'll do what I can to assist."

Stirling are eight points adrift at the foot of the Premiership One table, a dangerous situation given Scottish club rugby's current state of flux. Two former captains, Stewart Hamilton and Brian Ireland, are among the favourites to take over the reins.

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