Rugby Union: Cup draw has big guns pointing head to head

Michael Lynagh may be able to control a rugby ball better than virtually anyone in the world, but when it comes to picking numbered balls out of a hat he is just as susceptible to the fates as the rest of us. Australia's former captain not only gave his club, Saracens, a Pilkington Cup headache yesterday but inflicted a similar condition on almost every other team with a realistic chance of reaching Twickenham in May.

Lynagh spared only one of the Cup favourites in concocting the most competitive sixth-round draw imaginable - Harlequins, 5-2 front runners for the knockout title, will visit rank outsiders Rotherham on 25 January. Most of the remaining ties will be pure theatre. After pairing Sarries with their north London neighbours Wasps, Lynagh wreaked havoc by sending Leicester to Bath for a repeat of last season's final, Bristol to Gloucester and Sale to Orrell. Not even Northampton will feel confident at home to Derek Eves' awkward squad from League Two, Coventry, in a Midlands derby.

With two all-Second Division ties, a couple of dark horses are certain to make the quarter-finals. Newcastle, a real danger if their demolition of West Hartlepool last Sunday was anything to go by, will expect to see off London Scottish while Wakefield, who gave Bath a torrid time at the last-16 stage last season, should pack too much attacking weaponry for Moseley.

Bath-Leicester is a certain sell-out, but there is a degree of doubt over the date. If the Tigers beat Toulouse in the Heineken European Cup semi-final at Welford Road on Saturday week, the final, scheduled for 25 January, will force a postponement. Bath, already beaten by the Midlanders in the league this season, have lost only one home Cup tie in 12 years - against Leicester in 1991.

There will be every bit as much venom at Kingsholm, especially as Gloucester and Bristol have been thrown together in a life or death battle against relegation. Yesterday's announcement by the Rugby Football Union that four sides will disappear automatically through the trap-door at the end of the season rather than three, as originally agreed, has left the traditional West Country giants vulnerable to the unthinkable.

Predictably, neither club was inclined to send seasonal greetings to the RFU yesterday. Alan Davies, the Bristol coach, described the decision as "barmy" and claimed it would damage the development of rugby in England while his counterpart at Gloucester, Richard Hill, dug deeper into the dictionary and came out with "disgusting". Hill, an England A coach this season, accused the RFU of kowtowing to big-money clubs in the Second Division who have been lobbying hard for two promotion places.

Worryingly from the point of view of club solidarity, the Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler yesterday came down firmly behind Gloucester and Bristol, arguing that any change to the relegation rules should have been jointly discussed by representatives of both the governing body and the clubs.

At least the Welsh appear to have solved their differences. Referees who staged an unprecedented strike last weekend and effectively wiped out the entire senior league programme yesterday accepted a revised pay package from the Welsh Rugby Union. They will now be paid on a sliding scale backdated to late August, with First Division fixtures commanding a pounds 125 fee.

PILKINGTON CUP Sixth-round draw: Saracens v Wasps; Rotherham v Harlequins;Bath v Leicester; Wakefield v Moseley; Gloucester v Bristol; London Scottish v Newcastle; Northampton v Coventry; Orrell v Sale (Ties to be played on Saturday, 25 January).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links