Exiles forced out of Madejski home for crunch Leinster match

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The Independent Online

Clubs competing in the Guinness Premiership are supposed to have primacy of tenure at their respective home venues, but the tournament authorities would be well advised not to consider blocking a team's promotion to the elite on those grounds. London Irish, fighting for silverware on a number of fronts this season, had their junior status at the Madejski Stadium reaffirmed yesterday when Reading, the local football club, pulled rank over the contested date of 23 January – even though the Championship side are distinctly unlikely to find themselves playing that day.

Reading face an FA Cup third-round replay at Liverpool following last weekend's drawn game at the Madejski and if they win – a mighty big "if", given the Anfield welcome awaiting them – they would have a home tie in the next round, which clashes with the last set of Heineken Cup pool games. As a result, London Irish have been forced to shift their big match with Leinster to Twickenham.

While the move will certainly generate more business at the turnstiles – the 24,100-capacity Madejski would have been sold out for Leinster, not least because of the Brian O'Driscoll factor – it does the Exiles no favours in terms of their European knock-out prospects. The Dubliners' first-choice team is shot through with Ireland internationals wholly familiar with the Twickenham experience and as a consequence, this development is much to their liking.

At least Bath are preparing to put the primacy of tenure torment behind them. The West Countrymen have pretty much given up on staying at the Recreation Ground – a wonderful site for top-class sport, smack in the middle of the city – following a long, expensive, extraordinarily complex and utterly fruitless effort to modernise the venue, currently administered by trustees on behalf of the Charity Commission. The defeat by a small handful of local anti-development campaigners will be hard to swallow, but a 20,000-seat stadium built on old industrial land on the western outskirts of town is now considered to be the most sensible, least painful way forward.

Meanwhile, the Premiership lost the fourth of six games scheduled for this weekend when Harlequins gave up on attempts to make the Stoop fit for the visit of Leeds. The playing surface, among the best in top-flight rugby, was not the issue; rather, the concerns surrounded spectator areas badly affected by snow and ice. The Londoners believe they would have struggled to obtain a safety certificate for the fixture, and the match has now gone the way of the Bath-Northampton, Newcastle-Gloucester and Sale-Saracens contests.

With the Six Nations Championship just around the corner, the Italy coach Nick Mallett named four Premiership players – the Saracens front-rowers Matias Aguero and Fabio Ongaro, the Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni and the Gloucester lock Marco Bortolami – in his 30-man training squad. A third Saracens player, the tight-head specialist Carlos Nieto, was left out. Nieto asked not to be considered for last autumn's internationals and at 33, it seems his Test career is at an end.

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