Rugby Union: Tigers' tale is one of twists: Barrie Fairall on today's domestic league programme

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The Independent Online
THE LINE from the old song ran 'where's the tiger's head?' to which the chorus duly replied 'four feet from its tail'. But, lest we forget, rugby's Tigers are considerably closer to the head of the Courage Clubs' Championship than that. Indeed, another win this afternoon for Leicester will see them level on points with the pace-setting Wasps.

There is nothing Wasps can do about this as it is their turn to have a league break, and in any case they have already beaten Leicester and are sitting pretty with the only 100 per cent record in the First Division. The Tigers, though, are still very much in the hunt and history tells us that at the end of the inaugural league season, it was Leicester who pipped Wasps for the title.

Still, like the rest of the pursuing pack, Leicester must keep on winning and hope that their London rivals eventually have an off day or two. After all, no club has made off with the silverware without losing at least one match and the Tigers can expect to collect another two points today when the struggling Saracens pull into Welford Road.

Saracens have won just one match to date, their opener against fellow stragglers Rugby, and the sorry storyline suggests that they are most unlikely to record their first success in the league over their hosts. They also travel minus their hamstrung England centre John Buckton, though Barry Crawley does return at No 8.

Leicester, whose kick-off has been brought forward to 2.45 to avoid a clash with their footballing neighbours at Filbert Street, will meanwhile be led by Dean Richards. Now happily restored to the middle of the back row, he takes over the captaincy role in the absence of the flanker John Wells, who injured a knuckle at London Scottish last weekend. Steve Hackney is on the wing for Tony Underwood, who drops out on rota.

Mid-table Harlequins, who would feel a lot more comfortable if they could improve on a record of two wins in a season that sees four sides take a drop to the Second Division, look to tame the fighting Irish, who will arrive at The Stoop shorn of their five Dublin boyos - Staples, Geoghegan, Saunders, Halpin and Robinson. Just one point separates the two, which should swing in Quins' favour even though they are still without David Pears, Neil Edwards and Mike Wedderburn.

Rather more desperate for a win are Gloucester, who have never finished lower than sixth in the league but to date have only accounted for Rugby. Things should look up at Kingsholm, however, where West Hartlepool have the unenviable task of trying to break their First Division duck. Gloucester, mind, are taking nothing for granted. 'There are no easy games in the league,' Ian Smith, the Cherry and Whites captain, said, 'and West will be no different.'

Across the Severn, Swansea's Heineken high flyers should continue to prosper at home to Pontypridd, even though they are without Robert Jones. The scrum-half has taken himself off to Tours, where the French Barbarians tackle the South Africans. Here, these Baa-Baas are captained by Serge Blanco in his final farewell. 'I started against the Springboks, I'm ending against the Springboks. It means a lot,' the great 34-year- old full-back said. Bon voyage.

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