Budget cuts force Bath to ditch coach Smith

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The Independent Online

Bath, on the brink of breaking the Zurich Premiership record for conceding fewest points in a league season, are defying logic and dispensing with their defensive coach Brian Smith, the former Wallaby fly-half.

Under Smith's careful guidance Bath have conceded 263 points in their 19 matches to date, and with three more to play they are well-placed to better the mark of 346 set by Leicester in the 2000-2001 season. Bath's defensive record in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup is not bad either - opposition teams have amassed just 84 points in six games to date. The Bath budget will not run to keeping Smith on next season, despite his obvious worth.

Smith's demise is an unwelcome distraction with Bath involved in a demanding Parker Pen Challenge Cup semi-final first leg against French side Montferrand today. "This is going to be a very tough game," acknowledged the head coach, John Connolly. "They are going to be a real test." The return of the full-back, Matt Perry, five weeks after a major back operation will be a welcome lift.

In the other Challenge Cup tie, at the Stoop tomorrow, Harlequins have an equally awkward-looking tie against Ireland's one-time whipping boys Connacht. "They are a good side," said the Quins team manager Mike Scott. "They cannot be taken lightly." To that end Harlequins, who learned yesterday that they are losing their talented 20-year-old centre Chris Bell to Leeds at the end of the season, are fielding a near full-strength side.

Mark Evans, the Harlequins chief executive, said: "As a group we have a lot of respect for what Connacht have achieved this season. From what we have seen they look a very well organised side who have a tremendous team spirit. The number of times that they have come from behind to win is a huge testament to their spirit and determination.

"The four semi-finalists show it is a very difficult competition to win. It is very important to us to perform well over the two legs of this semi-final. But the two games will be very tight affairs."

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