Rugby Union: Worcester prepare for a cold reception

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The Independent Online
THE EXPANSE of mud norm-ally known as Kingsholm is not everyone's field of dreams, and if an 8.30 pitch inspection this morning passes it fit, it could well be the setting of a Tetley's Bitter Cup nightmare for Second Division Worcester.

Les Cusworth, director of rugby at promotion hopefuls Worcester, said yesterday: "Historically Kingsholm is the one place you would choose not to play. I'll be pleased if we just give a good account ourselves."

Worcester have six former Gloucester players in their squad but they are unlikely to stop the Cherry and Whites, who have club captain Dave Sims on the bench, from winning.

There is unlikely to be the same confidence at Kingston Park where Newcastle take on the undisputed Cup kings, Bath, who have won the competition 10 times since 1984. Bath arrive in the North East on the back of a stirring midweek Premiership victory at Sale. Bath, whose Cup record reads 60 wins from 76 matches, are unchanged.

The other all-Premiership One tie pits Sale at home to Northampton, the side they lost to at Franklin's Gardens a week ago. "We are only four steps away from Twickenham," said coach John Mitchell, "which is a huge motivation."

Saints suffered a surprise home defeat to London Irish in midweek, costing them the outright leadership of the Premiership. "We've studied the video but we still can't understand why we lost," said their captain, Tim Rodber.

League Two South leaders Esher took their players to the panto to watch a production of Jack and the Beanstalk this week. The trip is unlikely to help them much against Harlequins, who have won eight of their last nine Premiership matches.

Sedgley Park (Jewson League Two North) will preface their tie against Wasps with the official opening of their hospitality suites, fitness centre and refurbished dressing rooms, probably the only good thing to happen to them on the day. And it will be a similar story for Barking - Jeff Probyn and all - at Leicester.

Tomorrow Kendal are at home to an injury-hit London Scottish, who are at the lower end of the First Division. And Henley, who are second in Jewson League One, will put up a fight when they visit Bedford, struggling on and off the field in the Premiership. Henley are in formidable form, having scored 51 tries while conceding 17.

Jewson One side Morley host Saracens, who have made sweeping changes to the side which drew with Wasps in midweek. That includes giving a first-team debut to tight-head prop Jonathan Dawson, an England Under-21 international.

London Irish are without dynamic No 8 Isaac Feaunati and Peter Rogers, both suffering from knee injuries, but they should still have few problems at Second Division Bristol and expect a similar story at Reading where Richmond tackle Newbury of Jewson One.

In Wales, Cardiff will be looking to avenge last month's defeat in the unofficial Anglo- Welsh match against Swansea when they entertain the All Whites at the Arms Park.

Pontypridd have made a bid to bring Will Carling to Wales. The former England captain is being targeted by the 1997 Welsh champions with Eddie Jones, the club's manager, saying: "I have spoken to his agent and he told me that Will would look at the idea. We would have him here tomorrow if he said yes."