Rugby Union: Wasps press for Andrew's early return

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The Independent Online
WHILE Wasps will be looking to retain their 100 per cent record at the sharp end of the First Division at Gloucester's testing Kingsholm ground this afternoon, the London club have also set the Rugby Football Union a test over the Rob Andrew affair. They have sent a letter setting out their views on the 120-day league and cup ban the England stand-off must endure on his return from France.

Andrew, due back shortly after an 11-month break working and playing in Toulouse, has been told that he will not be eligible to play for Wasps until the home match with London Irish on 13 February. That ruling has its critics, among them Geoff Cooke, the England manager, and hence Wasps decision to try to make the most of the post.

'We're basically saying that the drafting of the regulations in legal terms is very ambiguous,' John Gasson, the club's spokesman, said yesterday. 'It's not an appeal as such - just a gentle letter pointing out our view. We're not trying to rub anyone's nose in it, but we are hoping for a change. Rob's case is a one-off because technically he's a home unions player.'

Whether the approach works is doubtful, though Cooke has said: 'I find the decision staggering.' Meanwhile, Wasps have been getting along well enough without Andrew, who in any case will miss only a couple of Courage matches and two Pilkington Cup rounds after he returns, and today will be seeking their fifth straight win.

Visitors to Kingsholm can expect a warm welcome, ferociously so, which should make life interesting for Kevin Dunn. One of a number to forsake his West Country roots, the England B squad hooker returns to face the music - which is not to say that he is not short of the necessary when it comes to taking care of himself.

Indeed, the switch to a new base at Sudbury can fairly be said to have lifted his game. There is much more to Dunn than the forward grind and a fortnight ago in the league he was the man of the match for his all-round skills in the 34-point pushover at Rugby. Now Wasps strengthen their hand with the return of Fran Clough to the centre following a knee injury.

With Wasps on a roll, Bath will be expecting a return to winning ways when they take on Orrell at the Recreation Ground. One Courage defeat a season is enough for any side with designs on the championship and Bath are certainly intent on completing a hat-trick of titles after being shaken and stirred by the reversal at Northampton.

In the past, a single slip is par for the course so far as the champions are concerned - though Wasps got away with two defeats the season before last when they snatched the prize - and from now on they will be looking to win everything. Which is tough on Orrell, the only team to beat Bath last season and now confronted by a backlash. 'Because of all the penalties at Northampton we were unable to create any real pattern to our play. We've got to clear that up,' Andy Robinson, the Bath captain, said.

Andy Reed, the Cornish lock, has his first league outing of the season and partners Nigel Redman in a second row shake-up that accounts for Martin Haag and Sean O'Leary. In addition, Steve Ojomoh is out of the back row. 'John Hall has been brought in,' Robinson said, 'to do what only John Hall can do.' To which Steve Taberner, the Orrell captain, replied: 'It's obviously going to be tough. We went into last season's game with a bit of form behind us, but we've not played particularly well so far. We've just got to hope that we're firing on all cylinders and that they have an off-day. It's the ultimate challenge.'

In Wales, all conquering Swansea are at Newport, who have won only one of their last nine meetings with the All Whites. Mike Ruddock, the Swansea coach, is taking nothing for granted though, following last weekend's league win at Bridgend. 'After their troubles (Bridgend had just dismissed their three-man coaching staff) we probably thought it would be easy. But we soon discovered that you can take nothing for granted in the First Division.'