Rugby Union: Live TV cuts Bath's cup support

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BATH'S army of travelling support has so withered before the temptation of live television that the club have, astoundingly, returned 850 of the 2,800 tickets they were allocated for Saturday's Pilkington Cup semi- final at Harlequins.

The seven-times cup winners take more followers around with them than any club except Leicester, who go to Orrell in the other semi, and had put pressure on Quins to upgrade facilities at The Stoop to accommodate the anticipated influx from the West Country. A temporary 5,000 stand has been erected opposite the grandstand and another of 1,700 at the Chertsey Road end.

As a result, the semi-final capacity will be 8,500 as opposed to the usual 7,000. 'It's disappointing because immediately they knew the game was at Quins, Bath were pushing hard to get as many tickets as possible so we arranged to put in all this extra seating,' Colin Herridge, the Harlequins secretary, said yesterday.

The BBC's live coverage adds pounds 50,000 to the cup kitty. Quins, who receive a facility fee of pounds 1,000, and Bath, who get nothing, complained that they, Orrell and Leicester deserved a bigger slice of the TV monies. But Dudley Wood, the Rugby Football Union secretary, explained that distribution would be decided by the Senior Clubs' Association.

'We don't take any of the sponsor's money or TV fees,' Wood said. 'Quite apart from any other consideration, if any of this were to come in to the Rugby Union it would be subject to tax.' In fact, the cup pot is distributed among the 96 (up from 75 last season) qualifying clubs by the SCA in consultation with the RFU.

Meanwhile, Neil Back is out for up to six weeks after breaking a thumb in last Saturday's Leicester win at Quins. He misses the Orrell semi-final and the First Division decider at Bath on Saturday week but may be fit for the final if the Tigers make it, and for consideration for England's South African tour. 'I'm devastated because the two most important games of our season are coming up,' Back said.