Connolly eager for Bath to ignore distractions Down Under

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The Independent Online

The rest of the world may be glued to their television sets this morning to watch England's World Cup final battle against Australia, but at Bath it is just another working day.

The Zurich Premiership leaders have a big match of their own, a top of the table clash against Harlequins, so instead of watching their colleagues and friends battling it out with the Wallabies the Bath players will be at their regular pre-match team meeting as they are every match-day morning.

And of course since the players will be at that gathering, so too will be the all-Australian coaching team, head man John Connolly and his three assistants, Michael Foley (forwards), Rich Graham (backs) and Brian Smith (defensive and skills). "Our focus is on the game against Quins," Connolly said. "I think there is a danger that as a player you can become too emotionally involved when watching games like the World Cup final." And possibly as a coach.

But the playing staff are not alone in having to ignore the historic goings-on Down Under. BBC Radio 5 Live will be broadcasting their Saturday afternoon Sports Report from the Recreation Ground - the first time the Beeb has attempted to do so from a club match in rugby - and it means that the remainder of the club's staff will have even more work to do.

Which will be the case when the players trot on to the pitch later in the day. Second-placed Harlequins may have lost their Powergen Cup tie last weekend but there is nothing wrong with their Premiership form.

"At their best Quins are an extremely dangerous side," Connolly said. "They were outstanding against Northampton in the Premiership and their back row of [Andre] Vos, [Pat] Sanderson and [Tony] Diprose is one of the best around, whilst Paul Burke is an exceptional kicker." But Bath, who have lost just once in 10 matches - including the Cup - so far this season have been boosted by the return of Kevin Maggs, who has recovered from an ankle injury. The presence of the powerful Ireland centre will strengthen the Bath midfield considerably.

"Bath are playing very well this season," said the Harlequins chief executive, Mark Evans, who has been able to go into the game with the same 22 for the third week running. "We are expecting a hugely physical contest."

The bottom club, Rotherham, have to tackle a wounded Leicester Tigers side that has been struggling to make headway in the absence of their England players. The Titans will find Austin Healey on the right wing in place of Neil Baxter, who has a thigh injury. The Rotherham full-back, Bernardo Stortoni, has just returned to Argentina for his wedding so Jon Benson takes over, while Mike Umaga is on the bench.

Leeds take new signing Andre Snyman, 29, down to Northampton, although the South African is among the replacements. The director of rugby, Phil Davies, explained: "He starts as a replacement this week because he has only had four full days training with us. But he is a major addition to our squad, coming to us in his rugby prime. He is a quality player, the complete package: strong, quick on attack and a tough defender."

Saints have added a large dollop of experience to their front row with Tom Smith, the Scotland prop, making his first appearance of the season.

Newcastle, meanwhile, have packed their bench with five forwards for the trip to London Irish tomorrow in expectation of a tough confrontation. For their part, the Irish are wary of Newcastle's potency. The Exiles coach, Gary Gold, said: "Newcastle are in points-scoring form having racked up almost 100 in their last two games - and that was without Jonny Wilkinson."

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