Bristol's need for faith in defence

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The Independent Online

It is just as well that Bristol have Ellery Hanley on their coaching team because judging by the way Saracens swamped Gloucester last weekend they will take some keeping out at the Memorial Ground today.

It is just as well that Bristol have Ellery Hanley on their coaching team because judging by the way Saracens swamped Gloucester last weekend they will take some keeping out at the Memorial Ground today.

Given his vast experience as a Great Britain rugby league international Hanley must know most of what there is to know about defending against marauding sides like Saracens.

Both teams began the new Zurich Premiership campaign with wins last week, but Saracens' fifty-point thrashing of Gloucester was more convincing that Bristol's close-run thing against new boys Rotherham.

At least Bristol will be spared the probings and pace of Saracens' brilliant new signing Thomas Castaignÿde; the France international is getting marrying in Pau today.

But there is still threat out wide to worry Bristol. "Saracens have already proved their capability as a great side," acknowledged Hanley, "their attacking prowess is outstanding. But everyone is excited about the task ahead. We will just have to be all hands on deck."

In fact, they might not have a full complement. Garath Archer was reported to have a back problem late yesterday. If he is crocked then Andy Sheridan will remain in the second row, rather than moving to the back row where he would have taken over from Craig Short. Hooker Neil McCarthy makes his league debut for Bristol, while Danny Grewcock appears on the Saracens bench.

Northampton have a worry over Wales centre Allan Bateman, who has to undergo a fitness test today on a neck strain before an awkward looking match against London Irish. If Bateman is ruled out then Italian centre Luca Martin, who had been scheduled to slot in at full-back, will replace the Welshman.

The Exiles are unchanged from their opening day line-up which brushed aside their former landlords Harlequins at The Stoop. Quins though have made a couple of tweaks to their line-up for the visit of unchanged Rotherham.

Bruce Starr, the former Queensland Reds and Piacenza prop, makes his first start, replacing Jon Dawson, while a calf injury forces out lock Garrick Morgan, Alex Codling stepping up into the second row.

Morgan faces a one-match suspension next month for picking up three yellow cards, but Quins are awaiting clarification as to which match it is.

Gloucester's injury crisis has forced them to play Byron Hayward with a heavily strapped hand to protect his broken thumb, against Sale at Kingsholm. They are still not sure whether Chris Catling and Kingsley Jones will win their fitness battles.

Sale have called up Jos Baxendell into their 22-man squad, but there were doubts last night about Bryan Redpath, Niki Little and Jon Thiel.

Meanwhile, Bath's desperate hunt for a fourth prop looks to have hit yet another snag. After failing to sign Cardiff's Andrew Lewis, and with the return of Kevin Yates from New Zealand looking like a non-starter, they must now wait until Llanelli can find a replacement for Simon Emms before they can sign the former Bristol prop.

Bath send out the team that lost to Sale when they tackle Wasps at Loftus Road tomorrow. But their hosts are delaying selection because of an injury list that includes Lawrence Dallaglio, Trevor Leota, Alex King, Peter Scrivener and Jon Ufton.

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