Rugby Union: Orrell arm against a cold bath

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The Independent Online
ANY round of the Pilkington Cup without Bath is an event; the last 16 without them is a phenomenon, for which the rest of England's leading clubs can thank Waterloo. But by beating the holders, the Second Division leaders have made it even harder for themselves against Orrell today, writes Steve Bale.

If this seems paradoxical, given that Bath are the finest team in the land, consider this: Bath made the cardinal error of underestimating their third-round opponents and playing at Blundellsands at less than full strength. No one else will make the same mistake.

Peter Buckton, magnificent for Waterloo against Bath, knows this all too well: 'Bath knew almost nothing about us, while we had endless chances to study them because of their high profile. But Orrell, just 20 miles away, are regular opponents and some of the element of surprise is lost.'

And Des Seabrook, the Orrell coach, said: 'I get the impression Bath went there just thinking they had to turn up. There'll be no complacency by us.' In fact Stuart Barnes and Ben Clarke did not turn up, because they were playing for the Barbarians against Australia.

The draw for today's cup-ties threw up a freakish mixture consisting mainly of derbies such as Waterloo v Orrell. With Bristol and Gloucester having exited with Bath, the West's interest is confined to an all-Third Division meeting between Redruth and Exeter. Nottingham-Leicester, Rugby-Moseley, Saracens-Wasps, West Hartlepool-Morley, Harlequins-Wakefield and Northampton-Newcastle are the odd ones out.

The former England flanker Gary Rees, who has been through a succession of injuries and a court case during a year of non- playing, reappears for Nottingham - now weighing in as a 16st blind side rather than the 15st open side of yore. It is one year ago this week since the incident against London Irish that led to his prosecution - and subsequent acquittal - on an assault charge.

A business trip to the United States means Steve Bainbridge, an England forward of even earlier vintage, misses Newcastle Gosforth's visit to Northampton. The 36-year-old lock is replaced by Terry Roberts, 42.

It is cup day in Wales, too, though the renamed Swalec competition has reached only the last 32. Staying with the theme of international old boys, Mark Ring has his first game for Pontypool, at Colwyn Bay, since rejoining from Cardiff.

But the transitory glory in prospect for English and Welsh clubs pales into insignificance beside the distressing experience of Ian Hunter - the Northampton full- back and England wing - after withdrawing from a club game against Leicester to ensure his fitness to face France.

If Northampton had won, it probably would have been different. But Hunter received anonymous telephone messages as well as personal abuse in the Franklin's Gardens clubhouse after the game. He returns against Newcastle today, but the morons who upbraided him might reflect that what they really deserve is that Hunter goes elsewhere.

Fortunately for Northampton, he is more annoyed than upset and shows every sign of staying put.