Rugby Union: Exiles take a time-out from talks of takeover

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been one of those weeks when the unbelievable has ben overtaken by the incredible - or perhaps that should be taken over, given what is supposed to be happening between London Scottish and Bristol.

Twickenham finally woke up to events yesterday and issued a written request that the two clubs furnish the Rugby Football Union with details of any proposed merger or takeover and whether anything has been agreed.

It is believed that Second Division Bristol's millionaire owner, Malcolm Pearce, has made a pounds 1m bid for the Exiles and if that is accepted it is planned that Bristol would take over London Scottish's Premiership One fixtures. It is Bristol's way of guaranteeing themselves top flight rugby because, although they lead Premiership Two, they claim that the RFU will not guarantee them promotion. Talk about buying success.

Meanwhile, over in Dublin, the RFU were locked in talks over the Five Nations agreement and specifically, attempting to persuade the Celtic fringe that the agreement, which is 24 months into its 10 year tenure, should be updated as quickly as possible to accommodate Italy's addition. The cash spoils from broadcasting and sponsorship need to be sorted out.

But Wales, Scotland and Ireland are concerned that broadcasting cash from the existing agreement has yet to be paid to them, a sum allegedly in the region of pounds 2m per country. It is understood that the matter is still in the hands of an independent valuer.

What with last week's Cup turn-up when Henley put paid to Premiership One Bedford and rugby followers' could not be blamed for questioning everything they read and hear.

If London Scottish have their way there could be another tale of the unexpected when they travel to Welford Road to take on the Allied Dunbar Premiership leaders, Leicester. John Steele, their director of rugby, put behind him all the off the pitch shenanigans and said: "It would be too easy to say the goings-on have taken the players' focus away from the match.

"This is a big one for us. Leicester are the only top side not to have slipped up badly against less fancied opposition. Other clubs such as Saracens and Wasps have lost games they really shouldn't have. I believe Leicester will slip up and it might as well be against us as anyone else."

Their coach, Alan Zondagh, promised: "The players know that the best approach is to give the rugby everything. We are approaching this game as we did when we went to Saracens and hammered them just after Christmas." The Tigers, who field 12 internationals against the Exiles and have Tim Stimpson on the bench, have been warned.

Bath and Newcastle meet for the third time this season and the West Country side will be looking for some good to come out of this game. Their previous league meeting saw the European Champions lose by two points; last week in the Tetley's Bitter Cup they went down at Newcastle by three points.

Given that Bath's last league match was a win at Sale they will go in a trifle more confidently than before. The Newcastle coach, Steve Bates, said as much when he said: "Bath have had a terrible time, but they are not going to disappear as a force and could strike a winning sequence at any time."

Bath will have Wasps' disaffected scrum-half Andy Gomarsall on the bench after signing the England player on a month's loan to help them through an injury crisis in that position.

Harlequins, who are on something of a roll, entertain a formidable looking Northampton, who are strengthened by the return of the redoubtable Pat Lam and Budge Pountney in the back row. Quins have won nine of their last 11 games, but second-placed Saints could go top if they win - provided of course, that London Scottish pull off the unbelievable. Stranger things are happening in the game.