Rugby Union: West under pressure as Brewer flags

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The Independent Online
LONDON SCOTTISH can deliver another blow to West Hartlepool's hopes of staying in Allied Dunbar Premiership One when the two teams meet this afternoon at Victoria Park.

An 11th successive defeat would leave the division's bottom club six points behind the Exiles almost halfway through the Premiership campaign.

As is typical of the ill-fortune suffered by a struggling side, West's director of rugby Mike Brewer (hamstring), along with his team-mates Philippe Farner (ankle) and Steve Sparks (groin), is ruled out through injury. Despite their fitness problems, though, Brewer and Sparks are still expected to be named amongst today's replacements. In addition, West's Western Samoan scrum-half Tu Nu'uali'itia is doubtful due to a back problem. Richard Stone stands by while the Tongan Pita Tanginoa replaces Gareth MacLure at centre.

However, there will be no sympathy from Scottish. They have enough problems of their own, a fact which was emphasised by last weekend's 23-17 home defeat by London Irish which came only a fortnight after they had beaten Bath.

"We performed nowhere near our potential against the Irish," said the London Scottish director of rugby John Steele. "We took a step backwards in a couple of areas, kicking away too much ball and conceding too much turnover possession. Going to West is a massive match for us - its importance is obvious. We can put a large gap between ourselves and West, with the prospect of also climbing up the table."

The London Scottish full-back Iain McAusland has failed a fitness test so Russell Smith continues in the No 15 jersey, but Rhodri Davies will be replaced at centre by Jan Bonney.

Sale, who have recently enjoyed successive victories over London Irish and West Hartlepool, will seek to avenge last season's Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final defeat when they face Wasps today at Loftus Road. The Sale coach John Mitchell fields an unchanged side, although this weekend's international assignations mean that Shane Howarth, Phil Greening and Dion O'Cuinneagain are all sidelined. However, the England coach Clive Woodward has released the wing Tom Beim, who could feature as a replacement.

Wasps, in contrast, will be without their Scotland squad wing Kenny Logan, the Premiership's second-highest scorer this term with 164 points, just three behind the pacesetter from Harlequins, John Schuster. Logan's place is taken by Lawrence Scrase, who switches from centre, but the Wasps line- up is otherwise unchanged.

A win for the London club should consolidate their place in the top five, and reinforce their rugby director Nigel Melville's belief that the side which he steered to the 1997 title are once again potential champions. "We're reasonably placed at the moment, considering we've already played Bath, Newcastle, Saracens, Northampton and Gloucester away from home," he said.

"We've shown what level we're capable of playing at, and the challenge for us is to find some consistency, avoiding the schoolboy errors which we're sometimes guilty of making."

The Wasps centre Rob Henderson has been released from Ireland's World Cup qualifying squad to partner Nick Greenstock in midfield.

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