Quins and Bath set to renew hostilities

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Harlequins v Bath

The last time these two met in London – in a Fulham boozer, late last spring – the locals were in fancy dress and the visitors were up for a party of their own.

One drunken fight and a drugs scandal later, Bath return to the land of the blood capsule in search of their second win of the season, which would be two more than Quins have managed. A pointless draw would be the most appropriate result, given the bedlam generated by the clubs over the last six months.

Both are keen to "move on", but most of the movement at the Stoop this evening is likely to be from paparazzi chasing a picture or two. It will be a curious occasion, not least because of the strange places the teams inhabit. This time last year, they already had excellent victories behind them. Now, they are struggling to break free of their stigmas.

Bath have problems in midfield and will rely heavily on outside-half Nicky Little. Quins have players fit again – Mike Brown, the full-back, and Gonzalo Tiesi, the centre, both start – but their tight five looks fragile compared with a powerful Bath unit featuring David Flatman and Duncan Bell in the front row. The West Countrymen do not have a great record at the Stoop – only one win since 2000 – but it is better than their record in London pubs.

Leicester v Worcester

Worcester's director of rugby, Mike Ruddock, has signed a year's extension to his contract, taking him up to 2011 – one in the eye for those who thought his time might be limited after last season's failures. Not that he will be wholly confident of victory this afternoon; despite the return of the All Black wing Rico Gear. Ruddock knows away wins at Welford Road are of the hen's teeth variety. Leicester have their share of injuries and will give Marcos Ayerza, their Argentine prop, a breather on the bench. But they welcome back England internationals in Dan Hipkiss and Tom Croft and must be anticipating a first attacking bonus point of the campaign.

Leeds v Gloucester

Seru Rabeni, who thought he was joining Gloucester until his prospective employers changed their minds, signed for Leeds instead. Tomorrow, the Fijian makes his debut against... you guessed it. Should the Yorkshiremen fail to take something from opponents struggling as badly as these, the odds against them staying in the Premiership will be long indeed.

Wasps v Northampton

With Tim Payne and Joe Worsley rested under the England agreement, Wasps look a little light up front. Northampton, increasingly confident on the road, will be disappointed not to run the Londoners close.

Newcastle v Saracens

Carl Hayman is back in the Tyne-siders' front row, while Steve Borthwick is missing from the visitors' second row. Can Saracens' new hard-nosed approach survive the absence of their best operator? If it doesn't, the leaders could be threatened.