Return of Flutey takes back seat to Wasps' battle for play-off place

Weekend Preview

Wasps v Bath

On any other day, the re-signing of the England centre Riki Flutey would have dominated the Wasps agenda.

Flutey has been released by Brive, the French Top 14 club he agreed to join this time last year, and is returning to London immediately for surgery on a troublesome shoulder condition that should allow him to play a full part in the former champions' build-up to next season – good news indeed, seeing that all the major player movement at the club has been through the door marked "exit" just recently.

The Wasps hierarchy can be forgiven for pushing Flutey to the backs of their minds on this occasion, however. They have the small matter of this evening's meeting with Bath, their rivals for semi-final qualification, at Twickenham – a contest that will draw upwards of 60,000 spectators to the old cabbage patch. A victory for the West Countrymen would, barring a strange mathematical development, propel them into the top four at their hosts' expense and give them every chance of progress.

Wasps have restored Mark van Gisbergen to their back division, recalled Tim Payne at prop and handed a back-row starting place to Joe Worsley. Bath, meanwhile, have picked the Australian centre Matt Carraro ahead of Shontayne Hape – hardly the best news for the latter, given his England summer tour ambitions.

Leeds v Worcester

If the Twickenham game has some pressure attached to it, the real heat will be generated at Headingley tomorrow. If Worcester win, they will have an even-money chance of staying in the Premiership. If they take nothing from the contest, they will be relegated by tea-time.

The fun and games started yesterday when Cecil Duckworth, the unusually generous benefactor at the heart of the Worcester venture, accused Leeds of narrowing the playing surface. "If we played them 10 times on a decent surface and on the right-sized pitch, we'd win more often than them," he said. "We must visit this issue of changing the size of the field. It doesn't run well with me."

Pat Sanderson, the Worcester captain, has recovered from the heavy battering he took during last weekend's defeat by Wasps. Leeds, meanwhile, have made one enforced change to the side that won at London Irish six days ago, calling Kearnan Myall into the back row for the injured Calum Clark.

Northampton v Saracens

Soane Tonga'uiha, rated so highly that today's combatants signed him simultaneously, will be the subject of considerable interest at Franklin's Gardens today, even though the visitors have accepted he will not be joining them next season. Victory will guarantee Northampton a home semi-final and they have an eager look about them as they go in at something close to full strength. Saracens have promoted Glen Jackson, Neil de Kock, Mouritz Botha and the scary-looking Jacques Burger to their starting line-up.

Leicester v Harlequins

Leicester should nail a home semi-final this afternoon, even though their hard-working No 8 Jordan Crane has been ruled out by injury. Harlequins will stay in the hunt for automatic Heineken Cup qualification only if they win with a bonus point and Bath draw a blank.

Gloucester v London Irish

Gloucester, out of the Heineken Cup running as things stand, have rather less to play for than London Irish, who must win to retain a realistic hope of a Premiership semi-final. The Exiles have Richard Thorpe back at No 8.


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