Rugby Union: Newcastle test for Dwyer's special blend

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THEY ARE coached by Bob Dwyer, and very effectively coached too. But should Bristol happen to lose the services of the World Cup-winning Australian at any point in the near future, the hot favourite for a hot spell in the Memorial Ground hot seat will be none other than Kofi Annan. Well, any side featuring two Australians, two Welshmen, a New Zealander, a Fijian and a Zimbabwean in their back division would be daft to scour the Premiership when they could head straight for the United Nations.

Come early November, the West Country mix will be further spiced and seasoned by the arrivals of a Canadian in Al Charron, a South African in Henry Honiball, a Uruguayan in Pablo Lemoine, two Argentinians in Agustin Pichot and Eduardo Simone, and a common or garden Scot in Jamie Mayer. Oh yes, and Garath Archer too (by common consent, the Geordies are a race apart). Crazy? The England coach, Clive Woodward, would certainly question the sanity of it all.

But if Bristol's polyglot personnel squeeze out a victory at Newcastle tomorrow afternoon, it will make perfect sense to those long-suffering thousands who grew depressingly accustomed to seeing their top talent in the departure lounge rather than the arrivals hall.

It will be a piquant occasion at Kingston Park, not just because Rob Andrew is no more - at least, not in the playing sense - but because the respective positions of Newcastle and Bristol have been reversed in the space of a single season. When the Geordies were happily spending Sir John Hall's money, recruiting a Va'aiga Tuigamala here and a Pat Lam there, Bristol could barely afford the price of a match programme. But Sir John failed to go the distance. The big player now is Malcolm Pearce, operating from his base at the other end of the country.

There is one other interesting little take on tomorrow's match: the return of Dean Ryan to northern climes. The former England No 8 was central to Newcastle's Premiership title, won at the first attempt in 1998, but fell out of love with the club when, in his own words, he found "it was not honouring its side of the bargain, even though the players had honoured theirs". He quit to take on the player-coach's role at Bristol and has not been back since.

If Wasps were stung, as it were, by their surprise defeat at Sale in the opening round of Premiership matches a fortnight ago, their cause was further undermined on Thursday when Woodward called scrum-half Martyn Wood into his World Cup squad in place of the injured Kyran Bracken.

With Wood now likely to be out of club circulation until the end of October at the earliest, Bryan Shelbourne, a 21-year-old recruit from the now defunct Richmond, shoulders the scrum-half responsibilities against Gloucester tomorrow.

The West Countrymen took a serious pasting at Wasps in last season's Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final, but they return to Loftus Road in good heart, bolstered as they are by four internationals in the pack and three outside. Richie Tombs is preferred to Chris Catling at full-back, otherwise Philippe Saint-Andre keeps faith with the line-up that accounted for Newcastle on the opening day.

Ben Clarke, the most senior victim of Woodward's World Cup cull earlier this month, has overcome ankle injuries to take his place in the Bath back row against Northampton, the early pace-setters, at the Recreation Ground this afternoon. Jon Callard continues his Indian summer at full- back, while Shane Berne and Mike Tindall combine in midfield in the absence of England trio Jeremy Guscott, Phil de Glanville, and Mike Catt and Ireland's Kevin Maggs.