Rugby Union: No compromise in sight as kick-off looms

IT WAS looking certain last night that there would be no immediate solution to the protracted wrangling between the top English clubs and the Rugby Football Union. Just 24 hours before the Welsh rebels Cardiff and Swansea are due to kick off against Bedford and West Hartlepool (strike action permitting) on a Saturday scheduled for a full Allied Dunbar Premiership programme, the RFU's management board is no nearer a compromise.

Twickenham officials do not want Anglo-Welsh games to be played on Premiership weekends and will not be supplying match officials or providing insurance. The clubs insist that, by law, they cannot be prevented from staging the so-called friendlies but have indicated their willingness to compromise over their fixture arrangements so that the cross-border matches could not be associated with the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

But after a lengthy meeting at Twickenham yesterday the management board decided to put the options open to the RFU to a full council meeting next Friday. The only certainty is that the clubs will have to find qualified match officials, either from Wales or among those not contracted with the RFU for the whole programme.

Of the matches that do go ahead there is almost as much attention centred on the bench for Bath's opening tussle against Wasps at the Recreation Ground tomorrow. That is where Kevin Yates will be found, six months after being found guilty of biting London Scottish flanker Simon Fenn's ear in a Tetley's Bitter Cup match last January. The loosehead position is taken by the Scottish international prop, Dave Hilton. Ben Sturnham, a summer signing from Saracens, makes his debut, while the England Under- 21 player Iain Balshaw comes in for the injured Matt Perry and South African scrum-half Steve Hatley gets in ahead of Andy Nicol.

Josh Lewsey, the England outside-half, finds himself in the less familiar role of full-back when he makes his Wasps debut against Bath. Gareth Rees, the Canadian international, wears the No10 shirt in the absence of the injured Alex King, while Lewsey's former Bristol colleague, Eben Rollitt, comes in to the back row for Lawrence Dallaglio who has still not recovered from a shoulder injury.

Alain Penaud and Jeremy Thomson step into the roles left vacant by Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella respectively when Saracens entertain Northampton at Watford on Sunday. Watford is the birthplace of Thomson's mother, a fact that makes him eligible for England. The Australian and former Harlequin Troy Coker comes into the back row for injured player-coach Francois Pienaar.

Andre Barnard, the South African centre, signed from Pontypridd on a two-year contract yesterday, is one of eight players who will be making their debut for Bristol against Exeter in tomorrow's Allied Dunbar Premiership Two game.