Domestic duty means Bath time for Bristol

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The Independent Online

For one of Bristol's Heineken Cup heroes, the little bit of domestic business down the A4 this afternoon will be not so much after the Lord Mayor's Show as the after the Lord Mayor's dinner. It was for a spot of replenishment rather than entertainment that Mark Regan was invited as a guest of Bristol's civic leader to the Mansion House on Thursday evening, having switched on the Christmas lights at Downend, the Bristolian suburb that gave the world W G Grace and two thirds of pop group Bananarama.

The hooker and his team-mates might have seen off Stade Francais at the Memorial Ground last Sunday, but the mega-watt glow from that famous 17-0 victory will be quickly dimmed if they fail to rise to the occasion of their 10-mile trip to Bath today. Nowhere is the focus of attention likely to be quite so sharp – or so painful – than at the Recreation Ground on this weekend of narrowing horizons following the first two rounds of European competition. As Richard Hill observed yesterday: "There's always that little bit of extra spice to the occasion."

For 11 years a fixture in the No 9 jersey at Bath, and for four years now the head coach at Bristol, Hill found the ingredients to cook up home and away derby wins in the Premiership last season. "We seem to have broken that real stranglehold that Bath had over Bristol for many years," he said. "It gave everyone the huge lift to go to the Recreation Ground and win."

Still, as Hill was at pains to acknowledge, Bath are a tougher proposition now than they were a year ago. Steve Meehan's side have not lost on home ground in any competition for 12 months now, since Bristol beat them on 18 November last year, and have eight wins out of 10 this season. They have a local score to settle from last term and Meehan is looking to Steve Borthwick, his captain, and Butch James, his Webb Ellis Cup-winning outside half, to do it.

"I think Steve Borthwick will have an immense match," Bath's head coach predicted. "It's the sort of game that is tailor-made for him and he will be looking to lead by example as the captain. I also reckon that Butch James will stand up and show exactly why he is a World Cup-winner."

It also happens to be the kind of occasion for which Regan's cloth is ideally cut. A Heineken Cup winner with Bath 10 seasons ago, when he packed down in between Dave Hilton and Victor Ubogu, the 35-year-old front-row veteran and wind-up merchant extraordinaire returns to the Rec on the same afternoon that his World Cup understudy is welcomed back to the bosom of club rugby.

Having undergone knee surgery since the World Cup final five weeks ago, George Chuter is on bench duty for Leicester Tigers against Leeds Carnegie. The Headingley fixture, of course, is a first taste of the Premiership for the new Leicester coach Marcelo Loffreda. The Puma-turned-Tiger has chosen Lewis Moody to captain his side in the absence of Martin Corry.

The other game today features the league leaders, Gloucester, who entertain Harlequins at Kingsholm with Chris Paterson starting ahead of Ryan Lamb at fly-half. Tomorrow, Newcastle travel to Wasps with 14 Englishmen in their starting XV – and Sean Tomes (son of Alan, the former Scotland and Lions lock) on the bench. Saracens also have Sunday service to perform, at home to London Irish. They might have had a Lord Mayor's Show of a Heineken Cup victory to follow – had Dimitri Yachvilli not kicked them right in the crown jewels from a range of 50 yards in Biarritz last Sunday.

Premiership team news

* BATH v BRISTOL (Today, 2.15pm)

Bristol coach Richard Hill makes two changes to the team that beat Stade Francais last Sunday, Lee Robinson replacing the injured Tom Arscott on the right wing and Jason Strange coming in for David Hill at fly-half. With inside-centre Neil Brew getting the nod for the 'one foreign player' slot, Hill, a fellow Kiwi, drops to the bench. For Bath, Shaun Berne replaces Alex Crockett at outside-centre and Matt Banahan starts on the left wing.

* LEEDS v LEICESTER (Today, 2.45pm)

Marcelo Loffreda's first Premiership selection for Leicester has Sam Vesty at full-back in place of Geordan Murphy and Tom Youngs at inside-centre for his first start of the season. Alex Moreno replaces the injured Martin Castrogiovanni at tighthead while James Hamilton partners Ben Kay at lock. For Leeds, Jon Dunbar returns on the bench after recovering from a hamstring problem.


Andy Hazell returns at openside flanker for Gloucester after six weeks on the sidelines with rib cartilage damage. Gloucester coach Dean Ryan makes eight changes to the side that beat the Ospreys 26-18 in the Heineken Cup. At half-back Gareth Cooper and Chris Paterson replace Rory Lawson and Ryan Lamb. Quins make one change, Nicolas Spanghero coming in at lock in place of Jim Evans.

* WASPS v NEWCASTLE (Tomorrow, 3pm)

Wasps pick the same back-line that cut Llanelli Scarlets to shreds in the Heineken Cup. In the pack Rafael Ibanez is rested – Simon Shaw and Lawrence Dallaglio, Joe Ward, Richard Birkett and James Haskell all start. Newcastle have 14 English players in their starting XV. The Kiwi lock Mark Sorenson is the odd man out.

* SARACENS v LONDON IRISH (Tomorrow 3pm)

Saracens' director of rugby Alan Gaffney has made four changes to the team beaten by Biarritz. Cobus Visagie and Paul Gustard come into the pack while Adam Powell replaces the rested Andy Farrell at inside-centre and Gordon Ross replaces Glen Jackson at fly-half. Irish, winners away to Newport-Gwent Dragons in the Heineken Cup, make one change, Phil Murphy starting at No 8.