Rugby Union: Butland offered a new lease of life by Richmond

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The Independent Online
CLIVE WOODWARD is not remotely amused by the fact that it is now far easier to spot a Europhile among the Tories than it is to find a decent English-qualified outside-half in the Allied Dunbar Premiership. The national coach will, however, be encouraged by Richard Butland's switch from Bath to Richmond. At long last, the goal-kicking stand-off that time forgot is in a position to jog a few memories.

Butland (born in Cape Town, but who cares any more?) spent so long on the Recreation Ground sidelines that he must have been tempted to set up a camp bed in the replacements' dug-out. Things have moved quickly in the last 48 hours, though. Bath kindly bought out the remaining year or so of his contract on Wednesday and by yesterday morning he was installed at his new club alongside four other Rec refugees in Ben Clarke, Darren Crompton, Craig Gillies and Adam Vander.

"Butland had limited opportunities at Bath, but he is one of the high quality England outside-halves and will be a valuable asset to us," pronounced John Kingston, the Richmond coach. "I believe we can rejuvenate his career." At 26, Butland is no longer to be found in the spring chicken coop, but the dearth of genuine No 10 talent is such that he could quickly make up acres of lost ground.

Richmond, who are preparing to transfer Scott Quinnell back to Wales for the most sympathetic of reasons - the Lions No 8's wife, Nicola, is homesick - visit Wasps tomorrow in a London derby of considerable importance. Both clubs have six points from five Premiership outings and with Saracens, the form performers, sitting pretty with a maximum eight from four, neither can afford to slip further off the pace.

The same might be said for both Gloucester and Newcastle, who are also among the six-point pack. This afternoon's meeting at Kingsholm will almost certainly be a rumbustious affair, not only because the infamous Shed is scaling previously unimagined heights of audience hostility, but because last season's corresponding fixture left such a sour taste in West Country mouths.

Newcastle won that one 29-27 amid some profoundly controversial refereeing decisions from John Pearson, and it proved the crucial victory in their successful title campaign. Today, they face the new threat of Simon Mannix at stand-off but will not have to contend with either of Gloucester's international front-rowers. Phil Vickery's neck condition has flared up again while Phil Greening is on the transfer list.

In Europe, the glasses are beginning to rattle in the Last Chance Saloon. Pontypridd, considered the strongest of the Welsh quartet in a devalued European Cup, will struggle to qualify for the knock-out stages if they fail their serious examination in Colomiers this afternoon, while Llanelli also have a desperate struggle awaiting them in France when they take on Begles-Bordeaux tomorrow.

Ian Gough, the Ponty lock hospitalised by a now notorious punch from Mark Jones, the Ebbw Vale No 8, earlier this month is back on duty following a surprisingly brisk recovery from an eye operation. None too pleased with Jones' decidedly lenient three-match ban, Gough is nonetheless keen to put the incident behind him and concentrate on challenging for a place in the Wales side against South Africa next month.

His return should at least give Neil Jenkins, his club captain, something to smile about. "We haven't been playing well enough in the front five, we're turning over far too much ball and our rucking leaves a lot to be desired," said Jenkins yesterday. That's right, Neil. If in doubt, blame the forwards.