Rugby Union: Bath prediction backfires as injury toll rises

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Bath, the most successful club in English rugby history, have sensibly decided to give the prediction business a wide berth after publicly promising themselves an unprecedented treble last season and then failing to land a single trophy, writes Chris Hewett. Unfortunately, the one forecast they were prepared to make this time around - that they would be the fittest side in the country under the guidance of the unforgiving New Zealander Jim Blair - has already backfired with a vengeance.

The West Countrymen will start their Allied Dunbar Premiership campaign against newly promoted Newcastle on Saturday without half their of first- choice line-up. The England backs Jon Sleightholme, Adedayo Adebayo and Jeremy Guscott, the Scottish scrum-half and captain Andy Nicol and three international forwards - John Mallett, Federico Mendez and Dan Lyle - are all injured and the dressing-room cynics have now altered their original prognostication to suggest that Blair will indeed get the players fitter than ever before, provided, of course, they recover a sufficient degree of fitness to start training.

Bath will field two rookie wings against Rob Andrew's outfit. Michael Wood, an England Under-21 cap signed on a month's loan from West Hartlepool, plays on the right flank with the second debutant, the Irish trialist Brian Roche, on the left. Another former West Hartlepool player, the back- rower Russell Earnshaw, makes his first league appearance at The Rec on the open side.

Away from the glitzy high life of the Premiership, the building group Jewson yesterday announced a seven-figure investment in the Rugby Football Union's regionalised National Leagues, known last season as Courage leagues three and four. The three-year deal gives England's bigger amateur clubs a valuable financial lifeline and also provides funds for grass-roots rugby and training for referees.