Scandal hit clubs seek victory boost

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The Independent Online

It could easily be billed as English rugby's 'game of shame'.

Harlequins and Bath clash at the Twickenham Stoop tomorrow evening following an appalling summer when both famous clubs saw their reputations battered almost beyond repair.



Since they last met in April, bans totalling eight years and three months were handed down to individuals whose behaviour meant the sport was dragged through the gutter.



'Bloodgate' - the infamous fake injury scandal - accounted for ex-Quins rugby director Dean Richards (three years), former club physiotherapist Steph Brennan (two years) and current wing Tom Williams (four months).



Bath, meanwhile, saw the Rugby Football Union hit former players Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andy Higgins each with nine-month suspensions following their refusal to take club drug tests.



Former Bath lock Justin Harrison was booted out of rugby for eight months after the Australia international admitted taking cocaine.



Even an end-of-season party in London did not pass off trouble-free, as players from both clubs became involved in a fracas outside a Fulham bar.



The hangover remains.



In eight Guinness Premiership games between them this season, Quins and Bath can reflect on a solitary victory, two draws and five defeats.



But with the Heineken Cup kicking off next weekend - Quins visit Cardiff Blues and Bath head to Ulster - victory tomorrow takes on added significance.



Quins chief executive Mark Evans said: "There are not many sides that go through the whole 22-game Premiership stretch without a dip.



"Sometimes that happens at the beginning of a season, sometimes the middle and sometimes the end.



"I thought we played pretty well in our opening game against Wasps with 14 men (Quins lock George Robson was sent off inside the opening minute). I thought we did all right and played some quite good stuff.



"Then we just got edged in an arm-wrestle against Leicester, like you do sometimes, and we played poorly against Saracens. We got frustrated, and fell apart in the second half.



"But we played much better in the drawn game at Newcastle last week - we came back well from 14-3 behind.



"These things can turn really quickly, and hopefully we will play better again this weekend."



Off the field, Quins are continuing their search for Richards' successor, an individual who the club are hopeful could be in place before Christmas.



Evans added: "It (director of rugby) is always a big appointment - every club would tell you that



"It's the same for the national team, but probably more so for a provincial or a club team in this part of the world."



Bath, eager to avenge a 19-3 home defeat last term when they were shunted to all parts of the Recreation Ground by a dominant Quins pack, are ready for another searching examination.



"What we have to do is make sure we turn up with the right attitude and that we are intense about everything we do out on the field," said Bath's skills and defence coach Brad Davis.



"They are a quality side. Albeit they have struggled so far this season, but they are not too far away from a win, so we have to make sure it's later on in their season rather than this weekend."



Champions Leicester have several injuries ahead of tomorrow's Welford Road appointment with Worcester, a list that includes internationals Geordan Murphy, Aaron Mauger, Harry Ellis and George Chuter.



But Worcester rugby director Mike Ruddock, who hands New Zealand wing Rico Gear a first start of the campaign, knows it could make little difference.



"Tigers have a few guys out injured, but even so, they have such strength in depth," he said.



"They will be a tough team to break down - they are organised, strong and physical - but we want to be very competitive and strong against them."



Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill added: "We've had to make a couple of changes again this week, which is not ideal.



"But the players have shown an excellent attitude, and they all want to build on results and performances so far."



Leaders Saracens, meanwhile, set off in search of a fifth successive Premiership victory when they visit draw specialists Newcastle on Sunday, while Wasps - with Danny Cipriani at full-back - host Northampton and bottom club Leeds are visited by Gloucester.



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