For a shade under two hours all seemed rosy at Bath. At 11am Mike Catt looked to have come through a demanding fitness test on his troublesome calf and was named in the line-up for the first time since the end of November.
Then, around lunchtime, the Catt comeback was called off after the England player suffered a twinge in the calf late in the final training session and was forced out of Bath's crucial Parker Pen Challenge Cup quarter-final, second leg. While the head coach, John Connolly, said he was hopeful Catt would be fit in time for the Premiership game against Wasps at the Rec on 7 February, there have to be doubts that the player will ever be able to regain full fitness. It is either his calf or his hamstring which lets him down.
"It has been touch and go with Mike all week," explained a disappointed Connolly yesterday, "and he failed a fitness test on his calf in our final training run late this morning. It is disappointing for Mike, but we are hopeful that he will be fit for next weekend's Zurich Premiership game against London Wasps." Catt's withdrawal means that Olly Barkley retains the No 10 jersey, while Kevin Maggs moves to inside centre. The Ireland international's place on the bench is taken by Hentie Martens.
Bath have not lost at home in any competition this season and the run stretches back to March last year. That record does not make Béziers' five-point advantage look all that great, and Connolly said as much. "We know what we have to do and are confident that we can make the semi-finals."
The same could be said of Harlequins who were allowed to build a 33-point cushion against Brive last week. However intimidating the atmosphere will be down there, Brive have left themselves far too much to do to make up the deficit.
The same sadly can also be said about Saracens who entertain Montferrand. The French club, captained by the international Olivier Magné, have a solid 16-point start. Even the return of the England flanker Richard Hill and centre Kevin Sorrell may not be enough to help Rod Kafer's men turn things around.
"Kevin has been working very hard during his rehab and has got himself back into good shape, which is good news for the squad as it adds more competition to the midfield," said Kafer.
"With Richard and Kevin slotting back into the starting line up after impressing during training this week, we've decided to stick with Ben Skirving at blindside as he has put in a lot of hard work recently in that position." Kyran Bracken starts the match with the Canada scrum-half Morgan Williams dropping to the bench.