Bath suffer high casualty count

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The Independent Online

Bath and Newcastle are both suffering an injury crisis as the pool stage of the Heineken Cup reaches its climax. The Falcons have 16 players unavailable through injury or non-registration, while Bath fly to Bourgoin today with a bare 21 players for their Pool Two match.

Bath and Newcastle are both suffering an injury crisis as the pool stage of the Heineken Cup reaches its climax. The Falcons have 16 players unavailable through injury or non-registration, while Bath fly to Bourgoin today with a bare 21 players for their Pool Two match.

Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, is at his wits' end. At the last count yesterday, Andrew was left with 18 fit players for Sunday's match against Newport-Gwent Dragons.

"In all my years in the game I have never been in a situation like this," he said. "We haven't been able to do any training this week because we haven't had enough bodies to have a meaningful session. Plus, we don't want to injure any of the few fit players we do have."

Andrew has only four fit front-row forwards. There are no fly-halves and, critically, no recognised goal-kicker. "It's so bad that we are having a kicking competition on Saturday to see who fancies a crack," he said.

"We haven't got enough front-row forwards, which is the biggest danger, and so we've just got to hope that some of the injured guys come right by Sunday. There is a risk that we might have to name injured front-row forwards in the squad just to fulfil the game, and that is certainly not a position we want to be in. We just have to wait until Saturday and see who is fit to take the field."

It is not much better for Bath. It is the second time that the West Country club has been unable to field a full match-day squad of 22: their bench was down to six when they played Treviso last month.

The head coach, John Connolly, has had to select the flanker Michael Lipman on the wing. Of more concern to the club, however, is the future of the assistant coach, Mike Foley, who is now looking more certain to leave The Recreation Ground and join Eddie Jones's coaching staff with the Wallabies.

Foley's contract runs out at the end of next season and Bath's owner, Andrew Brownsword, wants the former Australia hooker to take over when Connolly leaves at the end of this season. But Foley, who had a couple of meetings with Jones when the Australians were in Europe for the autumn Tests, is likely to be tempted by a sizeable salary increase from the Australian Rugby Union.

Ben Cohen signed a new three-year deal with Northampton yesterday. Saints also signed the former Harlequins lock Alex Codling from the League One club Bedford.

Harlequins have turned down the chance to acquire the New Zealand fly-half Andrew Mehrtens.

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