Mike Tindall, one of the few remaining World Cup winners from 2003 still active on the international scene, will lead Gloucester in tonight's Premiership derby with Bath at the Recreation Ground. This should have been a no-brainer, given the thirty-something centre's status as club captain, but Tindall has not been in the finest of fettle this season, hence his relegation to the bench for last weekend's Wasps match. The England coaches will be relieved if he delivers something half-decent against his old employers this evening.
Tindall is currently the preferred choice at outside centre as far as Martin Johnson, the national manager, is concerned. He reclaimed the No 13 shirt from Mathew Tait for the Six Nations finale against the Grand Slam-hunting French in Paris – Johnson being Johnson, he did not trust the choirboyish Tait to deal with the elephantine midfield rumblings of Mathieu Bastareaud – and held his place for both summer Tests in Australia. All things being equal, the selectors will want to see him squaring up to the All Blacks at Twickenham in five weeks' time. If he can do a little equalising this evening, so much the better.
Gloucester make the short trip south with Dave Lewis at scrum-half – Rory Lawson, who skippered the side in Tindall's absence, is recovering from an operation to pin together a busted bone in his hand – and Alex Brown, an acknowledged line-out burglar, in the engine room. This means Dave Attwood, one of the men pushing for a place in the England second row, must make do on the replacements' bench. He will not be best pleased.
Sale, almost as resilient at home as they are fragile on the road, will have the reassuring figure of Charlie Hodgson at outside-half for this evening's match with Wasps. One of the more intelligent game managers in England, he has recovered fully from shoulder surgery and has an opportunity to force his way back into Johnson's thinking with the World Cup in New Zealand less than a year away.
"I'm not going to worry too much about 12 months' time," he said. "Things change in rugby day by day, so this is about concentrating on Sale and being successful for them. This game will be tough: I've done a lot of training, but there's no substitute for match fitness and I'm bound to be a bit rusty."
Last season, Wasps refused to play on what they considered to be a dangerous pitch at Edgeley Park, forcing a last-minute postponement and leaving thousands of supporters already in the ground with nothing to watch but the steadily lengthening queues at the bar. Much to the astonishment of Sale, the Londoners were subsequently cleared of any wrong-doing: the wise men of the Premier Rugby board dumped the blame on the referee, David Rose, instead. "It's been spoken of among the paying public, but the players aren't really thinking about it," said Hodgson of that sorry episode.Reuse content