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Rugby Union: Newcastle aware of size of task

THE NEWCASTLE director of rugby, Rob Andrew, has admitted that it will be a difficult proposition for his team to achieve a big margin of victory against Saracens today in order to qualify for Europe.

Andrew's team must recover from their Tetley's Bitter Cup final defeat by Wasps and beat Saracens by 30 points to claim a lucrative European Cup place. "Just beating Saracens at Watford will be an achievement," Andrew said. "We will simply aim for a win and see if we are ever in a position to give it a blast."

Newcastle suffered three setbacks last Saturday. They lost the final, had their try-scorer Va'aiga Tuigamala injured and then learned that Bath, their rivals for the European slot, had scored 76 points against London Scottish. That scoreline by Bath made all the difference.

"We thought that Bath would win by up to 40 points. But we never thought they would pile up so many and make our very difficult task near impossible. But mentally the boys have picked themselves up since having League and Cup ambitions damaged," said Andrew.

Tuigamala is unlikely to participate. "I popped my shoulder and I've got to be very doubtful," said Tuigamala.

Saracens, after losing out to Newcastle last season in the push for the title, owe Newcastle no favours, but do not intend to lie down. Their director of rugby, Mark Evans, said: "The integrity of the League demands that we play full out."

Rotherham will be attempting to join the elite this weekend as they play Bedford in the first leg of their Allied Dunbar Premiership play-off at Clifton Lane, with the return at Goldington Road on Sunday.

Rotherham will be aiming to succeed where they failed last year against London Irish and this time insist that they are better prepared. "Last year we didn't truly believe we could win, but this time we do," said Rotherham's captain Mike Schmid. "A year ago we finished fourth in the Second Division and were playing the 11th-placed side from Division One, now it's second against 13th."

Schmid might also add that Rotherham finished level on points with the Second Division champions, Bristol, after winning their last 17 matches and that Bedford were so worried about the play-off that they rested their entire first team for their final Premiership One fixture against Richmond last Sunday. "It was against my principles but what can you do when there is so much at stake?" asked Rudi Straeuli, Bedford's director of rugby. "It's the difference between the elite and semi-professional status."