Rugby Union: Sting in the tale as Wasps tackle Tigers

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The Independent Online
THE established order of English club rugby is Bath first and then the rest, and Leicester and Wasps reluctantly make this very point by meeting at Welford Road this afternoon, writes Steve Bale. Whatever the result, it will be to Bath's advantage, since one or other of their likeliest challengers will have been severely knocked back.

The champions' superiority will in all probability be further emphasized against Gloucester. 'Away to Bath is the worst possible fixture even for a side that's playing well,' Barrie Corless, Gloucester's coaching director, said. Gloucester, with two draws from three matches, are not.

And here is another beauty of Bath. Squad strength is everything now that there are 18, rather than 12, league fixtures and to have a player like Mike Catt is to have cover for four different positions. Catt had been due to cover on the wing for the injured Tony Swift but yesterday was moved to stand- off, his preferred position, when Stuart Barnes withdrew with a bruised knee. He is also comfortable at centre and has played for England Under-21 at full-back.

In extremis, Barnes might have played. Not so his Lions colleague Brian Moore, who has been left out of the Harlequins team to play Newcastle Gosforth in favour of the 22- year-old Paul Simmonds. As the England hooker has publicly suggested that leading players should regularly be stood down from league games, perhaps he cannot complain, though it hardly assists his prospects for selection against the All Blacks.

After two defeats, Quins seem to have forfeited their title aspirations. Best of the rest are Wasps, a point behind Bath, and Bristol, Leicester and Northampton, two adrift. But what is this? For the Saints, two points at Bristol are a secondary consideration.

His team having stabilised against London Irish after a thrashing at Bath, the Northampton coach, Glenn Ross, insists he would be satisfied merely with further progress today. 'Sometimes we bog ourselves down with league pressure,' he said. 'We are looking at developing our game rather than securing two points.' Mind you, the points would be handy.

Scotland's international players have appointed the former captain and Lions prop, Ian McLauchlan, to handle their off-field earnings.