Rugby Union: Bath ready to break the sound barrier: Steve Bale reports on today's dream ticket for an exciting top-of-the-table match and talks to two experienced campaigners aiming for English rugby union's First Division honours

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THE WORLD and his wife - meaning everyone from Peter Gabriel to the Bishop of Bath and Wells - want to be at the Recreation Ground this afternoon for the climactic Courage Clubs' Championship match of the season between the First Division's top two.

Bath v Wasps, not forgetting Stuart Barnes v Rob Andrew, is a fixture-maker's dream ticket (if only he could get a ticket) and also highly unusual. It is hard to recall a previous fixture at this late stage of the season when the title could have been decided between two contestants coming head to head.

Hence this game's popularity. The trouble is that the Rec holds only 8,500, and Bath routinely fill it for even the most mundane league fixture. And this is anything but mundane. Bath have been knocked out of the cup and have lost one league game more than Wasps (ie, one), so anything less than victory will effectively end their chance of remaining champions.

All of which reckons without the three fixtures remaining ahead of both title aspirants. It is Wasps' misfortune that this is Bath's turn to stage the fixture between them, though whether the run-in giving Wasps two home games to Bath's one is an advantage is a moot point. Fran Clough, Wasps' former England centre, confesses to membership of 'a funny team' for whom home comfort is not necessarily beneficial.

Bath have 3,000 members, so with Wasps having been allocated 500 tickets, just 5,000 are left for the public not to mention rock stars, clerics and even the editor of the Evening Chronicle, whom Bath have always regarded as a football fan.

It sounds like an international, and the fact that Bath's internationals take their club rugby as seriously as they do England is why, quite apart from the comfort of home, the champions ought to win today. Their points difference being 110 better than Wasps', the unprepossessing Courage trophy will then be theirs to lose.

If they have a nagging doubt, it arises because Wasps won here two years ago - though Bath do have a habit of punishing such presumption. Their difficulty will be piercing a miserly Wasps defence which has not conceded a try in the past five league matches and only two in all eight. On the other hand, seven of their 11 league and cup wins have been by a single score.

'We wouldn't say we're a spectacular side,' Rob Smith, the Wasps coach, said. 'But we have a sound game which is very hard to break down. The analysis of what we are doing and why we are winning has been rather shallow but perhaps if we beat Bath people will look a bit deeper into our game.'

If Wasps feel undervalued, imagine how they would feel if they were down among the dead and dying like Saracens, their north London neighbours. If Sarries lose at home to London Scottish, their parlous position would become near-terminal, a diagnosis that applies even more to Rugby when they visit Orrell.

Welsh rugby remains in a state of shock after Wales's home defeat by Ireland even if the splendour of Llanelli's play in putting 72 points past Newport in midweek has shown how it should be done. Another round of Heineken League matches today has the contenders, Swansea, Llanelli and Cardiff, playing Bridgend, Newbridge and Neath respectively.

The impassioned nature of Welsh inter-club rivalry has a cost in leaving players drained and jaded, not only now and then but virtually week by week. Small wonder they have been finding it hard to dig any deeper into their own distinctly finite resources on the international field.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- COURAGE CLUBS' CHAMPIONSHIP FIRST DIVISION TOP FOUR ---------------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Wasps 8 8 0 0 137 68 16 Bath 8 7 0 1 236 57 14 Leicester 9 7 0 2 159 96 14 Northampton 8 6 0 2 98 79 12 ----------------------------------------------------------------------

South Africa have appointed their first non-Afrikaner national coach, Ian McIntosh. The former Zimbabwean is an exception to his predecessor, Gerrie Sonnekus, in another way as well, as he will join the six-man selection committee. McIntosh, the coach of the surprise Currie Cup champions, Natal, will take South Africa through to the 1995 World Cup, which they will host. Sonnekus resigned two weeks ago, barely a month after succeeding John Williams. Jannie Engelbrecht will manage the team for the visit of France in June and for a tour to Australia later in the year. Gysie Pienaar has been appointed assistant coach until the end of the World Cup.

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