Rugby Union: Tuigamala catches up with Guscott

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The Independent Online
Bath on Wednesday night was a watershed. It was when realisation dawned that 100 years of bitter separation had merely starved union of imagination and talent. After the appetiser in midweek, today will show that what was regarded traditionally as a game for southern softies now has a hard centre or three.

Bath's league imports, Henry Paul and Jason Robinson, delighted an enthusiastic Recreation Ground with their adventurous play on their debuts. If they lacked something in defence they will quickly learn the ropes, but their attacking skills are prodigious and unquestioned.

Today the arrival of Va'iga Tuigamala in the middle of the Wasps back line sets up an intriguing encounter with Paul and Jeremy Guscott. The England centre, who leads Bath in the absence of Phil de Glanville - described as rested rather than dropped - had refused to take part in the Rugby Challenge at the end of last season when Bath and Wigan played each other in their respective codes.

Guscott's refusal to participate meant he avoided a confrontation, or rather collision, with Tuigamala. No chance today. The Recreation Ground will shudder with each impact. The trio of league boys are familiar with each other's game but, as Tuigamala points out, he has an edge: "I have a good reservoir of rugby union experience. It's been my game for all but two years of my sporting life." Unlike Tuigamala, neither Paul nor Robinson had any experience of the 15-a-side game before last May.

Bath need to win after last week's setback at Leicester, but the pacesetters, Harlequins, must fancy their chances at home to London Irish. Yet another league centre, Gary Connolly, partners Will Carling in the centre to add some spice to a Quins back line already bulging with talent. Huw Harries becomes the third scrum-half to be used by the London club, but Paul Challinor is holding on to his stand-off berth despite Carling's much publicised ambition to play there.

Northampton entertain unchanged Bristol without Gregor Townsend so England's Paul Grayson takes over at No 10. Rumours that Tim Rodber might switch to lock were unfounded and he stays in the back row.

Tom Smith, the Watsonians loose-head prop, has become the first high- profile player this season to be suspended for fighting. Smith, who was on Scotland's summer tour to New Zealand, has been given a three-week suspension. The 24-year-old was sent off against Jed-Forest on 31 August after exchanging punches with Gavin Kerr, who has received the same sentence.