Rugby Union: Bristol's battle for pride

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The Independent Online
Bristol may be the poor cousins of West Country rugby these days - two current England forwards are no guarantee of First Division survival - but they need sympathy like the proverbial hole in the head. Particularly when that sympathy emanates from Gloucester.

Richard Hill, the former Bath scrum-half and current coach of a resurgent Cherry and White side expected to nip Bristol's Pilkington Cup campaign in the bud at Kingsholm this afternoon, raised a few local hackles yesterday by admitting: "I really do feel sorry for them.

"We endured a long losing spell earlier in the season and I understand exactly what the Bristol players and coaches are going through. We snapped out of our defeat mode and maybe they will too, but we can only try to ensure that their unsuccessful run continues."

Armed with seven internationals, including the England tight forwards Mark Regan and Simon Shaw, Bristol look competitive on paper. But seven league defeats on the bounce compares horribly to Gloucester's six straight victories and the last thing Martin Corry's dysfunctional outfit need at the moment is a white-hot cup derby against a form side.

With Leicester's big-gun tie at Bath put back a fortnight because of this afternoon's Heineken Cup final, the weekend's classiest Pilkington encounter is likely to be found at Enfield tomorrow when Saracens, high as kites after winning a capital derby against Harlequins last Sunday, take on their north London neighbours, Wasps.

It will be instructive; the theory that Michael Lynagh, Francois Pienaar and the other senior overseas signings might disappear into their bank accounts when the going got tough was exploded in the Quins match and Wasps will have to play better than of late to survive.

Quins go to Rotherham, of the Second Division, without their most experienced international front-rowers, Jason Leonard and Keith Wood - Leonard's absence means an afternoon's captaincy for a certain Will Carling - but the Yorkshiremen have virtually conceded defeat. "Looking at it realistically, Quins will win while we extend our learning curve," Steve Cousins, the Rotherham coach, said.

Three top-flight Welsh sides will make an early exit from the Swalec Cup this weekend. However, today's all-First Division games between Swansea and Dunvant and Caerphilly and Llanelli are overshadowed by the derby at Rodney Parade tomorrow, where Cardiff take on their ancient rivals, Newport. Richard Goodey, the Newport captain, has declared himself available despite a rib injury. "Cardiff is the big one and I have no intention of missing it," he said.