Bath chase victory to stay in play-off hunt

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The Independent Online

These are heady times at Bath: the most significant moment in their recent history, quickly followed by the most important five days of their season. Last week's buy-out by the multi-millionaire businessman Bruce Craig had the Recreation Grounders grinning from ear to cauliflower ear. The smiles will be broader still if they can claim a bonus-point victory over a weakened Northampton on the banks of the Avon tonight.

Bath are six points behind Wasps, who currently occupy the fourth and last of the Guinness Premiership play-off places. As the two sides meet at Twickenham on Saturday, there is every reason for the West Countrymen to believe their semi-final chances are alive and kicking, especially as Northampton are travelling light. The Midlanders have given Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Dylan Hartley the night off and restricted Soane Tonga'uiha, Euan Murray and Roger Wilson to bench duty ahead of this weekend's contest with Saracens, when victory will guarantee them a home draw in the knockout phase.

Butch James, the World Cup-winning Springbok outside-half, strained ankle ligaments during Bath's victory over Sale three days ago and will not play a part this evening. Nicky Little will deputise and, with Shontayne Hape reappearing in midfield and the England tight-head prop David Wilson resuming at the coalface, the hosts will be deeply disappointed if they fail to extract full value from their game in hand.

Meanwhile, Leeds' chief executive Gary Hetherington spent yesterday raising the heat ahead of the forthcoming relegation scrap with Worcester, describing it as "the biggest game in the club's history", carrying with it a potential seven-figure windfall that would help secure the long-term future of elite rugby union in Yorkshire.

"Retaining our Premiership status would be a remarkable achievement and would provide an opportunity to go forward like never before," Hetherington said, confirming that victory would be worth a straight £1m to the business. A draw on Sunday will be enough to keep the Yorkshiremen up; Worcester know that defeat will send them down.

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