Gloucester suits face dressing-down from Shed fans

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The Independent Online

Just in case there was not enough controversy swirling around the Heineken Cup as a result of the French boycott of next season's competition, the Gloucester hordes are preparing to get in on the act.

Furious at plans to transform English rugby's most celebrated strip of terracing - the Kingsholm Shed - from a bearpit to a sandpit by making it an all-seater, the 4,500 regulars intend to give the club hierarchy arough ride before, during and after tonight's match with Leinster. As strong players have been known to wilt in the face of abuse from that section of the crowd, how mere men in suits will react is anyone's guess.

The Cherry and White management have been very quiet on the subject of their proposed stadium redevelopment, which is scheduled to begin in March. They will find it difficult to stay quiet much longer. The Shed is holy ground to Gloucester's most loyal supporters, and they consider the blueprint for the new Kingsholm to be rank heresy. It should be an interesting evening all round.

The visitors have already nailed down the pool. Even so, Leinster are travelling in strength. Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan, Denis Hickie, Felipe Contepomi, Malcolm O'Kelly, some bloke called O'Driscoll... they are bringing the lot in an effort to secure as high a quarter-final seeding as possible.

Gloucester are also in it to win itwith the likes of Iain Balshaw and Jack Adams returning to their optimum positions.

Down in the European Challenge Cup, much will be decided tonight. Saracens travel to Glasgow in search of the bonus-point win that would give them top seeding in the last eight, but as Glasgow could pinch the pool with a four-try victory of their own, there is nothing dead about this contest. As a result, Saracens travel with a front-line team including Andy Farrell.

Bristol and Newport Gwent Dragons are contesting top spot in Pool 1, with the Welshmen holding the whip hand. Should they do a half-decent job in Bayonne this evening, they will take the honours and given themselves a chance of a home draw in the knock-out stage. Bristol will certainly secure maximum points against Bucurest at the Memorial Ground, despite resting the more venerable members of their marvellous tight-five unit, but Richard Hill, their coach, has resigned himself to going through in second place and travelling to somewhere dodgy, like neighbouring Bath, in the quarter-finals.

On the boycott front, the professional French clubs plan to up the ante with the various governing bodies of the European and world games by demanding a reduction in the number of weekends devoted to Test rugby. Concerned that their domestic championship is being undermined by the proliferation of international fixtures, they are determined to press ahead with their abandonment of next season's Heineken Cup if they get no satisfaction.

Shane Geraghty yesterday signed his first professional contract in a deal that will keep him at London Irish for the three years. The talented 20-year-old fly-half is widely expected to play a part in the forthcoming Six Nations championship after being named in England's squad a fortnight ago.

The England coach, Brian Ashton, has backed Newcastle's decision to play centre Mathew Tait at full-back for the European Challenge Cup tie at Petrarca Padova tomorrow.

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