Rugby Union: Saracens set for backlash

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The Independent Online
WHAT is the biggest threat to the Double pretensions of Bath? Not the opposition, not even Saracens in this afternoon's Pilkington Cup quarter-final at Southgate, where they always struggle.

Rather, it is their own facilities. The appalling state of the Recreation Ground pitch is well documented but at least there is the respite of away games. There is, however, no escape from the training-ground out of town at Lambridge, which has reduced match preparations to farce.

So Saracens may find Bath, of all people, under-prepared because the best the forwards can do is sink ever deeper in the Lambridge mire and the backs are lucky if they can find 20 square yards of grass on which to rehearse their moves.

Players' feelings are running high and perversely this may mean Bath take it out on Saracens, who almost denied them the championship last season and actually did so when Bath were there in 1990. Sarries, third in the Second Division, have performed marvellously this season despite the haemorrhage of players once they were relegated last April.

One of Saracens' dear departed, Chris Tarbuck, fills the place still left vacant in the Leicester pack by Dean Richards against Moseley at Welford Road. England's most-capped No 8 was yesterday ruled out of a comeback against France next Saturday and according to Tony Russ, the Leicester coaching director, it would have been touch-and-go whether Richards would be fit even for club rugby by then.

This is a grievous disappointment for both country and club, Russ having been confident of Richards's return in the aftermath of Ireland's win at Twickenham. 'Dean very much wanted to play in Paris and the only reason he would have played against Moseley was to give himself a chance,' Russ said yesterday. 'Instead, he has erred on the side of caution.'

Gloucester and Orrell provide the only all-First Division tie. A third First v Second quarter-final has the peculiar fascination of a former Wales outside-half plotting the downfall of Harlequins - although Paul Turner's priority for Sale remains the league, where they are scoring freely and lying second to West Hartlepool, who got close to Quins in the last round.

'It's an opportunity to see how far we've come but we can't allow this to be the be-all and end-all,' Turner said. Quins were hoping to set the

retired England flanker Peter Winterbottom on Turner but the Straw Man is playing sevens in South Africa.

In Scotland, Melrose will retain their McEwan's league title with a draw against Jed-Forest, while in Wales the sixth round of the Swalec Cup pits Pontypridd, the Principality's outstanding club side of the moment, against Swansea, who have led the Heineken League for most of the season.

Cardiff's minds could conceivably be elsewhere than their home tie against Bridgend after the signing of a three-year pounds 500,000 sponsorship deal which includes the payment of an annual pounds 75,000 into a players' trust fund. The club will now look for a pounds 50,000-a-year chief executive 'of international renown'.