Rugby Union: Guscott's nightmare may be almost over

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The Independent Online
Clive Woodward, the England coach, is fond of stating that a fit Jeremy Guscott would be one of the first names on his Test team-sheet. Woodward can start sharpening his pencil if the latest medical bulletin from Bath proves to be correct. Chris Hewett discovers a ray of hope.

"He always seems to be in the right place at the right time when it comes to glory," said one Lions hero, Matt Dawson, of another, Jeremy Guscott, during the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year programme on Sunday night. The Northampton scrum-half knows his onions, clearly; a full five months after facing the Springboks in last summer's final Test in Johannesburg, the mercurial Guscott may just be on course for the headline- grabbing comeback to end them all.

Bath believe their most prized possession will be playing again within four weeks and that prognosis gives Guscott a better than even chance of making the Heineken Cup final in Bordeaux on 31 January, provided, of course, his clubmates do their bit by seeing off Pau in this Saturday's sell-out semi-final at the Recreation Ground. It still seems too much to hope for, given the many confident predictions of Guscott's impending demise because of chronic back trouble, but there is at least a faint possibility of his returning to the England side for the Five Nations' Championship.

"Jerry is back with us and fully involved and it's been a big lift for everyone to see him around the place," said the Bath coach, Andy Robinson, whose mood had brightened considerably in the three days since his side's catastrophic Premiership defeat at Saracens. "He's been busily telling us where we've been going wrong and, more importantly, he's taking an active part in training. It's too early to give a precise comeback date, but four weeks is realistic."

Guscott, who had surgery late last month to correct a lower back problem resulting from an accidental knock in training, was more downbeat yesterday. "I don't want to say anything about a comeback," he said. "I'm training again, but that's as far as it goes at the moment." All the same, the signals are far more positive than at any time since the early autumn, when the extent of the injury was first revealed.

Much as Bath would love to see Guscott's uniquely predatory talents restored, they have more pressing fitness concerns. Although they expect to declare both Mike Catt and Adedayo Adebayo fit for what Robinson described as a "monumental" showdown with Pau, neither England player can be rated a certainty for the biggest rugby occasion ever seen at The Rec.

Catt, concussed during the England-South Africa international at Twickenham a little under three weeks ago, was to undergo a neurological scan today while Adebayo was putting his ricked back through its paces in a formal fitness test. Richard Butland will continue to fill in for Catt at outside- half if the scan is not 100 per cent clear while Simon Geoghegan stands by for Adebayo. If the Irish wing does get a run, it will be his first senior outing of a campaign all but wrecked by a serious toe complaint.

Talking of comebacks, Tony Hallett, the former Rugby Football Union secretary who was aggressively and, as it turned out, falsely accused of all manner of chicanery by his enemies within the corridors of power, is about to return to the fray. He replaces Symon Elliott as chief executive of Richmond early next month.

Hallett resigned from his RFU post in the summer following accusations that he misled the membership over the precise terms and implications of the multi-million pound broadcasting deal he helped broker between England and BSkyB. He was exonerated following a judicial investigation.

"There are big challenges ahead, both for the club and for the future of Premiership rugby," said Hallett, who was chairman of the club before taking over the reins at Twickenham. "The potential is enormous." Whether his views dovetail with those of his most powerful Twickenham adversary, RFU chairman Cliff Brittle, is a moot point indeed. "It will be interesting meeting Cliff again in my new role," Hallett added mischievously.

Richmond are certainly moving in the right direction; their five-try victory over Leicester on Tuesday night elevated them to third in the Premiership table. It was not all sweetness and light at the Athletic Ground yesterday, however. The club fined their Lions hooker, Barry Williams, an undisclosed sum after Bristol cited the Welshman for stamping on the head of Paul Burke during last Saturday's close-fought game at the Memorial Ground.

"We categorically refute the suggestion that Barry intended any injury to the player," said John Kingston, the Richmond coach, who nevertheless agreed that Williams might legitimately have been given a yellow card by the referee, Graham Hughes. Bristol have made an official complaint to the RFU disciplinary panel, who must now decide what further action, if any, should be taken.