Rugby Union: Postponed game on again as Bath told to play Bristol

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The Independent Online
THE COURAGE Clubs' Championship resumes this afternoon after a midwinter break and so does Will Carling, though the England captain's R and R has been rather longer - ever since the victory over the All Blacks on 27 November.

Illness, injury and holidays have caused Carling's absence, for which the England management are suitably grateful and only wish the rest of their team had enjoyed the same consideration. It would not have happened at Bath, for instance, but with another three weeks to go until England begin their Five Nations fixtures against the Scots, Carling's comeback for Harlequins at London Irish is nicely timed.

International issues are of more urgency this weekend in Wales and Scotland, who meet each other at Cardiff Arms Park next Saturday. The Scotland team will be announced tomorrow, as will France's to play Ireland in Paris. The Welsh team, who have been together since Thursday, have an opposed practice match in Cardiff this morning.

In England, the season of goodwill between Bath and Bristol never existed and last night, on the instruction of the Rugby Football Union, the contentious postponement of their game was rescinded after Ed Morrison, the international referee, and a delegation from the Bristol club had visited the Rec to make their own check on the state of the pitch. Leicester, who meet Northampton at Welford Road are therefore denied the chance to move alongside the leaders.

This match brings into opposition Martin Johnson and Martin Bayfield, England's prospective second-row pair now that Bayfield has recovered from the neck injury which caused him to miss the game against New Zealand. After successfully completing a friendly last Monday, Bayfield will be making his first league appearance since September.

Leicester's defeat at Northampton on the 11th of that month is one of the reasons they trail Bath despite going on to beat the champions in November. 'We may live to regret that result,' Tony Russ, the Tigers coaching director, said.

Without Bayfield, Northampton have failed to reproduce the form that saw off Leicester and have sunk into a mid-table group of six clubs jockeying not to join Newcastle Gosforth in relegation. 'We were under-strength for weeks,' explained Glenn Ross, the New Zealander who coaches Northampton. 'Now we have our artillery back in place and a young squad full of potential to play the dynamic rugby we made our season's aim.'

Harlequins, Northampton, Orrell, Bristol and Gloucester are all on eight points and London Irish have six with a game in hand, five more than Newcastle, who were given the facts of First Division life by today's visitors Orrell when they started with a 42-12 defeat four months ago.

Of those in danger, Bristol were incensed that their fixture had been called off as early as Thursday when their journey was only 12 miles. For one thing, they sensed a decent opportunity in a prospective mudbath two weeks before returning to the Rec in the Pilkington Cup.

But more important was that, because London Irish's representation in Paris means they are likely to postpone next Saturday's game, Bristol would by the time of the cup not have played a meaningful match for three weeks. After Bristol had complained, and at the request of the Senior Clubs' Association, Bath agreed to an inspection by Morrison, but shortly after lunchtime their secretary, John Quin, announced that the postponement stood. Then the delegation from down the A4 arrived and the pitch, part of which has been covered with sand, was declared playable.

---------------------------------------------------------------- FIRST DIVISION TABLE ---------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Bath 9 8 0 1 232 96 16 Leicester 9 7 0 2 171 105 14 Wasps 8 5 1 2 163 141 11 Harlequins 9 4 0 5 159 125 8 Northampton 9 4 0 5 155 153 8 Orrell 9 4 0 5 153 152 8 Bristol 9 4 0 5 140 147 8 Gloucester 9 3 2 4 126 156 8 London Irish 8 3 0 5 87 143 6 Newcastle Gos 9 0 1 8 81 249 1 ----------------------------------------------------------------