Rugby Union: Home chance for St Peter's

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The Independent Online
EVERY underdog has its day, and in the case of Exeter from the English Third Division the day appears to be done. But St Peter's, conquerors of Cardiff, could not have asked for better next time out.

In yesterday's draws at Twickenham and Cardiff Arms Park, Exeter were sent to Leicester in the Pilkington Cup quarter-final while the Rocks (of which more anon) will be home to Bonymaen, colleagues from the Welsh Third Division, in the Swalec Cup's last 16.

The consolation for English romantics was that Waterloo, who describe themselves as the only Merseyside team left in any cup, will again be at home on 27 February. Bath, the holders, and Orrell having already fallen, Blundellsands now awaits Harlequins, last season's Pilkington runners-up.

'We had no chance against Bath, we had no chance against Orrell, and we have no chance against Harlequins,' Tony Cove, who doubles up as Pilkington's special-events manager and Waterloo's spokesman, smirked.

The other Second Division survivors, Moseley, are as unfortunate as Exeter, Northampton being the destination. Wasps, losing finalists in 1987 and '88, must trek to First Division strugglers West Hartlepool, where they have already won in the league this season. Moreover, by the time of the tie the England outside-half Rob Andrew will at last have requalified for his old club.

The last time Leicester played Exeter was in the Sixties when they used to make an Easter tour to Devon, since when rugby has become far too serious for such fripperies. This will be the Tigers' first home tie in seven; indeed the last time they played in the cup at Welford Road, they lost.

Exeter, too, take things more seriously than when they were a staging-post for tourists. In 1989 they stayed in the Third Division only on points difference, a shock which changed attitudes so much that, having steadily climbed the division since then, they are now well placed for promotion.

'We have to be realistic; we weren't going to go much further in the cup,' Dave Wiggins, the Exeter coach, said. At least the club know they will receive a healthy pay-out courtesy of a substantial Welford Road crowd. And from a practical point of view, the game will prepare them for a higher level of rugby next season.

'We've absolutely no experience of what it will require if we make it into the Second Division, so this tie could be very important in telling us something about ourselves,' Wiggins added. 'We're lucky to have the opportunity.'

Exeter are the first Third Division representatives in the last eight since Plymouth Albion also did Devon proud before falling to Wasps in 1988. And by keeping the big First Division clubs - Leicester, Wasps, Northampton and Harlequins - apart, yesterday's draw was a delight for Cove, wearing his sponsor's as well as his Waterloo hat.

St Peter's lost 16-7 at home to Bonymaen, a Swansea side for whom the former Wales stand-off Malcolm Dacey plays, in a league match in November but after seeing off Cardiff understandably feel this is a winnable tie. Incidentally, the club's origins at St Peter's Catholic church gave rise to the nickname: RC, hence Rock Cake.

Meanwhile, after their cup humiliation, Cardiff make 10 changes for tonight's First Division fixture at Pontypridd, thereby returning to full strength. Having discovered that complacency is a cup death-warrant, the Cardiff captain, Mike Hall, wishes to make amends by playing Bath on a future cup day. Extraordinary: Bath - and Cardiff - have become a consolation prize.

PILKINGTON CUP Quarter-finals: Leicester v Exeter; West Hartlepool v Wasps; Northampton v Moseley; Waterloo v Harlequins. Ties to be played 27 February.

SWALEC WELSH CUP Sixth round: Neath v Talywain; South Wales Police v Swansea; St Peter's v Bonymaen; Pontypool v Pontypridd or Pencoed; Bridgend v Llandovery; Llanelli v Newbridge; Newport v Cardiff Harlequins; Dunvant v Cross Keys. Ties to be played 27 February.

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