Dallaglio has point to prove

Click to follow
The Independent Online

By hook or by crook, the great and good of English and Welsh rugby have just about got away with it. The Powergen Cup, remodelled to marginalise the scores of clubs below Premiership level in favour of the four professional regional teams from the far side of the River Severn, is expected to draw the best part of 60,000 spectators to Twickenham tomorrow afternoon - a very decent number, given the lack of commitment to the tournament shown by at least 50 per cent of the participating teams when the first ball was kicked, and the first handbag thrown, back in September.

It could have blown up in the faces of the respective unions like a nasty stink bomb. An all-English final would have been a downer, an all-Welsh one even worse - especially as those who make the decisions over the bridge decreed that, as far as they were concerned, the Powergen would not offer Heineken Cup qualification as a reward for the winners. Both tomorrow's participants - Wasps and Llanelli Scarlets - will make next season's élite competition anyway, but no one knew that at the outset.

The match has its fascinations, as all Anglo-Welsh fixtures do. A Scarlets victory would propel the eternally popular Gareth Jenkins still closer to what many West Walians consider his birthright: the job of head coach to the national team. A semi-decent performance from the one Englishman in the red-shirted ranks, Clive Stuart-Smith, might fast-track him into the world champions' squad for this summer's important two-Test trip to Australia.

What of Wasps? Lawrence Dallaglio - yes, dear old Lol - will finally get a starting run at Twickenham, more than three months after rejoining the England squad. Dallaglio was not best pleased at his lack of opportunity during the Six Nations Championship, just as his fellow World Cup-winner Josh Lewsey was thoroughly cheesed off at being dumped from a great height following the humiliating defeat in France. Lewsey plays out of position at centre, a decision that has in turn left Fraser Waters a tad disenchanted. Dallaglio plays at No 8, as ever. Both men have points to prove.

There is a lovely sense of balance to the contest, for the two sides are mirror images of each other - less than frightening in the tight five, but armed with high-octane breakaway units and a fast, inventive back divisions. The Scarlets placed a depth charge beneath their opponents' European ambitions earlier in the season by beating them 21-13 at Stradey Park, while the Londoners claimed revenge in the return fixture a week later by scoring 48 points to not very many. The outcome this time? Wasps, well familiar with Twickenham finals, have the experience to prevail, and with Dallaglio in his current mood, have the momentum, too.

Bristol, one of the joys of the domestic season, have a heaven-sent opportunity to secure their Premiership status for another year when they take on those paragons of inconsistency, Newcastle, at the Memorial Ground tomorrow. Richard Hill, their coach, has set a 40-point target for safety and that will be achieved with any sort of victory. Just as Jenkins is the people's choice for the Wales job, Hill is emerging as an obvious candidate to succeed Andy Robinson at the head of the red rose army. Robinson is not thought to be going anywhere until after next year's World Cup, which will delight his old playmate from Bath. But in the medium term? Watch this space.

Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; P Sackey, J Lewsey, S Abbott, T Voyce; J Staunton, E Reddan; A McKenzie, R Ibañez, T Payne, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, J O'Connor, L Dallaglio (capt). Replacements: J Ward, P Bracken, D Leo, J Haskell, M Dawson, A King, A Erinle.

Llanelli Scarlets: B Davies; M Jones, M Watkins, R King, D James; M Hercus, C Stuart-Smith; P John, M Rees, J Davies, I Afeaki, A Jones, S Easterby (capt), G Thomas, A Popham. Replacements: M Madden, A Gravelle, V Cooper, D Jones, L Davies, G Bowen, G Evans.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).