Harlequins' new head coach, Richard Hill, gets the first opportunity to see his charges in action tonight when the London side take on the title-chasing Northampton in the Allied Dunbar Premiership at The Stoop.
Hill will not leave Ebbw Vale to take over at Quins until the end of the season, but he is eager to assess the talent at his disposal. He will forge a coaching partnership with the current No 1, Zinzan Brooke, who is only on the bench tonight for a match of little relevance to the underperforming London club but of huge significance to Northampton.
The Saints kept their treble dream on track when they defeated Wasps in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals at the weekend, but with a tough game against Bath ahead at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, their coach, John Steele, has opted to rest a few of his big names.
The Scottish duo of Mattie Stewart and Budge Pountney are both left out, as are the back-row pair of Don Mackinnon and Tim Rodber. In addition, the Welsh centre Allan Bateman has still to recover from the blow to the ribs which forced him off the field on Sunday, while scrum-half Matt Dawson is again absent. There could be even more changes when Steele decides which of his 24-man squad start and Andy Newman is likely to return to the second row.
"Sunday was the first time we have looked tired all season, so we had to remedy that," said Steele, whose side face nine matches in the final six weeks of the campaign if they are to land the three-trophy haul of Premiership, Heineken Cup and Tetley's Bitter Cup. "We have come to a stage where we have to use our squad and I'm sure Harlequins will offer an interesting challenge to us."
Revenge will be on the agenda at Loftus Road, where Bristol visit Wasps. The West Country team saw their Tetley's Bitter Cup final dreams end at the hands of the Londoners 10 days ago when a blistering 44 points in the first hour ensured Bristol's visit to the Madejski Stadium ended in misery.
A virtually second string Bristol line-up defeated Biarritz last Saturday to earn a place in the last four of the European Shield, but it is a place in next season's Heineken Cup which the Bristol coach, Bob Dwyer, covets most. A win for the visitors would keep the pressure on fifth-placed Saracens, while Wasps would leapfrog Bristol into sixth if they recorded maximum points.
Andrew Sheridan's outstanding display in the final quarter of the cup tussle at Reading has earned the lock a place in Dwyer's starting line-up for the first time, while the injury-plagued winger David Rees is set for his first Premiership start since his summer signing from Sale.
It will take a considerable effort by the Wasps coach, Nigel Melville, and his captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, to lift the players following Sunday's undeserved 25-22 defeat by Northampton. However, there will be little respite as Wasps face four league matches in 12 days against Bristol, Gloucester, Bedford and Sale.
East Kilbride will be drinking champagne after Saturday's BT Cellnet Shield final against Glasgow Southern whether or not they taste victory at Murrayfield. The club will be cheered on by a group of visiting French rugby fans, who will be bringing plenty of bubbly with them to Edinburgh.
"Every year we have an exchange with the French club Chalons," said the East Kilbride captain, Peter Pattenden. "We usually play them on the eve of international matches between Scotland and France but this year some of the French fans decided to come across when they heard we were in the final."
Pattenden, who is the head greenkeeper at Gleneagles, added: "They always have loads of champagne. They fill you up with the stuff, but it gives you an awfully sore head. We return the hospitality when we go over to France by bringing over whisky."
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