Bath settle down for Colomiers challenge

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The Independent Online

Seven was clearly the significant figure of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup second-round, first-leg matches with three English clubs - Bath, London Irish and Newcastle - winning by that margin.

Of this trio, the Zurich Premiership leaders, Bath, would appear to have the best chance of making it through to the quarter-finals, where they will meet either Béziers or Grenoble. Bath's seven-pointer was earned in Colomiers and in today's second leg they enjoy home advantage over the French side, having been unbeaten at The Recreation Ground all season.

They will have to win without the lock Steve Borthwick, though, after he suffered a split nostril in last weekend's first leg. At least the head coach, John Connolly, is not stuck for talent to replace Borthwick. The aggressive and much-improved Rob Fidler comes into the second row. "The doctor advised us that Steve should not play," Connolly said. "There was a risk that if we played him and the wound reopened, he might require plastic surgery."

Bath have to keep faith with the back line which helped earn them that precious first-leg win, which means the Scotland wing Simon Danielli continues at full-back and the scrum-half, Ross Blake, plays another game on the wing. "I thought that Simon was outstanding," Connolly added. "He is an exciting young player who is really developing, whilst Ross Blake did extremely well on the wing."

But there are signs that the injury hoodoo which has had up to a dozen of their three-quarters on the physio's couch is losing its potency. Connolly has been able to name the fly-half Chris Malone on the bench. He has recovered from a foot injury he picked up in early November.

It is a different story for London Irish, who underperformed at home to Narbonne in their first leg, and the coach, Gary Gold, said: "We will have to lift our game for the second leg. Narbonne are very strong up front with a good scrum that provides a platform for them to unleash their dangerous backs. We are under no illusions about the size of the task that awaits us." Gold has made two changes to the starting line-up, both of them in the front row, where Doug Wheatley starts at loosehead prop and Rob Hardwick returns at tight-head.

Newcastle, who beat their French opponents 10-3 at Kingston Park last week, face an equally daunting task tomorrow when they have to tackle Montferrand without their England fly-half, Jonny Wilkinson, who has still not recovered from a shoulder injury. They have also suffered a double blow up front, where they will have to do without their locks, Garath Archer and Mark Andrews.

Harlequins, in contrast, look to have a formality at home to Montauban, whom they thrashed 43-8 last weekend. Mark Evans, the Quins chief executive and head coach, afforded himself the luxury of resting a raft of first-choice players including Will Greenwood, Jason Leonard, Andre Vos, Pat Sanderson and Ugo Monye, and making 10 changes in all.

The prop Mike Worsley returns from injury and into the team come James Hayter, Jon Dawson, Bill Davison, Jim Evans, Tony Diprose and Luke Sherriff, the captain. Scott Bemand, Chris Bell and Matt Moore all start in the back line.