Rugby Union: Salmon looks to his cast for a Bath upset: Barrie Fairall previews today's league action in England and Wales

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The Independent Online
JAMIE SALMON, who landed caps as a centre for England and the All Blacks, is thinking of frying some big fish when Bath come calling at The Stoop today. One more defeat for the champions and the Harlequins general manager reckons that Courage, who sponsor the league, 'might like to send us a Christmas present'.

Certainly a win for Quins, to follow on Leicester's success against Bath a fortnight ago, would do themselves and the pursuing pack a tremendous favour besides making sure that the destiny of the title was not quite a foregone conclusion.

The trouble is Bath have only once before lost successive league outings - in March 1990 to Nottingham and Saracens. 'We're both on the rebound here,' Salmon said, 'because we also lost last time out away to Orrell, but they seldom have to tackle two away games on the trot such as Leicester and ourselves.'

'It's going to require a big effort from us, of course, and the boys are very keen to do well, but I don't believe we should ever lose a home match.' A sobering thought, though, is that Quins have never beaten Bath in the league.

Nor are Quins helped by the absence of Jason Leonard. The England prop has a neck problem, though thankfully the injury is not related to the one that required extensive surgery after he damaged a disc against Wales in March 1992. 'He's been to Stoke Mandeville and had scans and God knows what else,' Salmon said. 'The good news is that he'll probably only be out for a couple of weeks.'

Martin Hobley comes in for Leonard and the Quins pack is boosted by the return of their giant Wallaby lock Troy Coker, who has recovered from a broken hand. Martin Pepper is also free of injury and resumes in the back row.

Meanwhile, there is no respite for Will Carling and Brian Moore, but then as Salmon said: 'Bath's England boys are in the same boat and there are more of them.' Which means Bath have all their five England players in action in the match that marks Gareth Chilcott's league farewell.

Joining Leonard on the sidelines are Kyran Bracken, Tony Underwood and Tim Rodber. Bracken's right ankle, stamped on by Jamie Joseph at Twickenham, rules him out of Bristol's match with Newcastle Gosforth. The Tiger Tony Underwood rests a scraped back, but brother Rory plays for the third time in the Leicester centre at London Irish. A dead leg keeps Chris Oti out of the Wasps team at Northampton, who have dropped Paul Grayson.

In a restricted Welsh programme of three First Division matches, Swansea can increase their lead at the top of the Heineken League when they entertain the bottom- placed Cross Keys.

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