Cipriani and Waldouck lead charge of the young brigade

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The Independent Online

Daniel Cipriani and Dominic Waldouck, Dave Attwood and Chevvy Pennycook, Dan Murphy and Neil Briggs and Rob Laird - anyone earning a living outside the Premiership academy system would be hard pressed to put a face to these names, no matter how many anoraks might be hanging in the wardrobe. Cipriani, lauded as the next big thing since he was a twinkle in his father's eye, bagged himself a few headlines this week when the England coaching hierarchy invited him to Loughborough University for a brief gallop with an élite corps decimated by injury, but the rest are strangers indeed.

All of which makes the second round of the EDF Energy Cup unusually intriguing - or, depending on your point of view, a waste of time and effort. Those who see the best in everything will hail the aforementioned players' appearance in the match-day parties of Wasps, Bristol, Sale, London Irish and Northampton as proof of a growing acceptance of rugby union as a squad game. Those who smell a rat around every corner will take an awful lot of convincing that these clubs give a tinker's cuss about Anglo-Welsh competition. The truth probably contains elements of both arguments.

The tournament grows more confusing by the day. The assumption that it means more to the four Welsh regions than it does to the 12 English clubs was strengthened last week, when the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues fielded top-notch sides and ran rings round understrength Gloucester and Wasps. Yet the Ospreys are apparently travelling to Bath this afternoon with a team shorn of the two Joneses at prop, Shane Williams on the wing, Justin Marshall at scrum-half and Gavin Henson at wherever it is he plays these days. The latter may or may not have a gentleman's grooming appointment - first things first, and all that - but the absence of the others takes some fathoming.

Welsh regional rugby has not exactly raised the roof since the domestic game was reorganised with considerable ruthlessness three years ago. There has been no Heineken Cup quarter-finalist since Llanelli Scarlets lost a home tie to Biarritz in the 2003-04 campaign, and while the same club reached the final of this competition last season, they were comfortably beaten by a Wasps team who underperformed at both European and Premiership levels. Under such circumstances, why would a team blessed with a good start in this tournament, like the Ospreys, not throw everything at it for the duration? The union game moves in mysterious ways, to be sure.

Much of the interest this weekend is concentrated on the bench. Ryan Lamb, the hottest young outside-half in England in the second half of last season, has been named among the Gloucester pine-shiners after recovering from an ankle injury, and will probably get a good 20 minutes' worth of derby activity against a Bristol side currently unbeaten in all competitions. Andy Farrell, the centre of attention largely because he is not playing in the centre, is one of the Saracens replacements for tomorrow's home meeting with the Blues, while Pat Sanderson, who captained England on their fruitless summer visit to Australia, has been given substitute status for today's match with Leicester at Sixways.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the weekend surrounds the long-awaited reappearances of two World Cup-winning forwards, the No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio and the tight-head prop Phil Vickery. Dallaglio resumes the captaincy at Wasps following an operation to remove an unnervingly large metal plate from the ankle he wrecked in the opening minutes of the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2005, and if he is half as pumped up as he says he is, someone in a London Irish shirt is going to suffer at High Wycombe tomorrow.

Vickery, meanwhile, will be making his debut for the Londoners, having moved from Gloucester last season. Three other players have been awarded a first senior start - Dave Doherty from Leeds, plus Cipriani and Waldouck - but it is the return to match fitness of the substantial West Countryman that commands respect. Three back operations, a bout of neck surgery, a fractured eye socket, a busted arm - Vickery has been through the mill several times over. He may or may not recapture his England form, but all things considered, that is hardly the point.

Anglo-Welsh Cup team news

* BATH v OSPREYS (Today 2.30pm)

David Bory returns to the Bath left wing, Ian Davey switching to the other side. Andy Beattie returns to the back row and David Flatman starts at loose head. Ospreys have rested leading players, including Wales centre Gavin Henson.

* GLOUCESTER v BRISTOL (Today 3.0pm)

Gloucester have the England scrum-half Peter Richards in the starting line-up, with Jon Goodridge at full-back. Bristol give Luke Arscott his senior debut at full-back.

* HARLEQUINS v SALE (Today 3.0pm)

Stuart Abbott returns from suspension for Quins. Andy Gomarsall gets his first start of the season at scrum-half. Sale rest Jason Robinson and bring in Mark Cueto at full-back. Captain Jason White returns to the starting line-up.

* NEWPORT-GWENT DRAGONS v NORTHAMPTON (Today 5.30pm)

The Dragons' scrum-half Gareth Cooper makes his first start for nine months. Saints are without Ben Cohen (ribs), but the props Tom Smith and Pat Barnard return.

* WORCESTER v LEICESTER (Today 3.0pm)

Worcester give their hooker Aleki Lutui a first start of the season. The lock Craig Gillies replaces Phil Murphy (knee). Leicester recall Geordan Murphy, Daryl Gibson, Louis Deacon, Ben Kay and Julian White.

* SARACENS v CARDIFF BLUES (Tomorrow 4.10pm)

Saracens have named Andy Farrell on the bench. Their captain Simon Raiwalui returns to the second row. Neil de Kock gets his first start at scrum-half. Cardiff have Marc Stcherbina back at centre after injury.

* WASPS v LONDON IRISH (Tomorrow 3.0pm)

Phil Vickery makes his Wasps debut at prop while Lawrence Dallaglio plays his 293rd game for the club. Brothers Delon (right wing) and Steffon (openside) Armitage make their first start together for Irish.

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