Rugby Union: Turner paints rosier picture for stylish Sale: Rowell's league farewell

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The Independent Online
THE champagne that has greeted arrival in the First Division of the Courage Clubs' Championship has invariably been supped from a poisoned chalice. Of all the clubs promoted since the league's inauguration in 1987, only Northampton have managed to stay there.

At any rate this will be the case once Newcastle Gosforth and London Irish make the drop to which they are already doomed before respectively facing Northampton and the champions, Bath, this afternoon. Sale and West Hartlepool, who will displace them, know the feeling.

Neither survived longer than a season, Sale buried in a blizzard of points-against six years ago and West going up, down and now up again in the past three. Their meeting at Brierton Lane will determine which of the two ascends as champions.

It might also show which has the better chance of survival. Sale's more rounded style, orchestrated by the guileful former Wales stand-off Paul Turner, suggests they will be better suited than were either West or Newcastle, who had only the raw meat of forward power for sustenance.

The assiduousness of West's attempts at recruitment reflect a determination not to let it happen again. Talents as disparate as Tim Rodber's and Peter Clohessy's have been linked with the club, who have at their disposal the sort of sponsorship money that could buy a fleet of Range Rovers.

How many actually turn up is another matter. A signature in January, as Bath may find with the Neath scrum-half Rhodri Jones, is not the same as a commitment to play eight months later. With Richard Hill retiring, Jones would be a timely acquisition but the champions are supposedly working on alternative plans for the succession.

Bath and Leicester, assured of the first two First Division places a week before they meet in the Pilkington Cup final, have no compunction about fielding full slates of reserves at London Irish and Bristol. Jack Rowell, facing up to his final league match as Bath coach, calls this his 'other first team'.

In Wales, Pontypool need to beat the point-less Cross Keys to avoid accompanying them into the Heineken League Second Division. In this likely event, it will be hwyl fawr either to Dunvant - after a season's brief encounter with the elite - or Aberavon.