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News & Comment

Ruck and Maul: Quinlan and O'Leary still raw over their failure to tour with the Lions

Munster's Tomas O'Leary and Alan Quinlan have differing reasons for seeking a happy anniversary when they take on Biarritz in this afternoon's Heineken Cup semi-final. A year ago last week both men were named in the Lions squad, but neither made it to South Africa. Scrum-half O'Leary broke an ankle in his next match after the squad announcement; Quinlan was banned for eye-gouging in the 2 May Heineken Cup semi-final defeat by Leinster. O'Leary and Quinlan have been on good form of late. Asked what tactics would get under the skins of Biarritz, the former Munster captain and now technical coach Anthony Foley replied: "Just unleash Alan Quinlan and see how it goes."

Baltic braves

The International Rugby Board rushed news out of a "world record" set by Lithuania last weekend. The team currently 37th in the global rankings have won 18 internationals in a row, overtaking the previous bests achieved by the rather more renowned New Zealand and South Africa in 1965-69 and 1997-98 respectively. Surely knocking over the likes of Norway, Andorra and Israel is not as noteworthy as the All Black and Springbok teams captained by Colin Meads and Gary Teichmann? Anyway, Lithuania are dreaming of meeting England in next year's World Cup, though they need to beat Ukraine next Saturday and then get past Romania to reach an inter-continental play-off. Lithuania have a strong English connection. Three of their record-breakers dashed back from a 77-5 win over Serbia to play for Peterborough in Tuesday's 29-13 victory over Luton in the East Midlands Cup final. The lock Marius Andrijauskas, centre Gediminas Marcišauskas and full-back Maxim Guseinov have been playing for the National League Three Midlands side alongside a fourth Lithuanian cap, wing Alecks Ciuchlejus. They are among half a dozen men from the former Soviet state to have turned out for Peterborough in recent years.

The political scrum

If that last item, about economic migrants, sounds like a topic from the hustings, where are the political lines drawn in rugby? Based on the clubs' home grounds, the Guinness Premiership would have a Gordon Brown government with six teams returning election wins for Labour in 2005: Gloucester, Leicester (Leicester South), London Irish (Reading West), Newcastle (Newcastle upon Tyne North), Sale (Stockport) and Saracens (Watford). There are three with Conservatives MPs – London Wasps (Wycombe), Northampton (Northampton South) and Worcester (Mid Worcestershire) – and three for the Liberal Democrats: Bath, Harlequins (Twickenham) and Leeds (Leeds North West)..

Have cash, will travel

Lithuania are unlikely to get there but English supporters seem determined to be in New Zealand for Rugby World Cup 2011. The official outlet England Rugby Travel reports four fans splashing out £54,000 for their trip and the Rugby Football Union's business operations director, Paul Vaughan, said: "It is a staggering amount. As of Wednesday we were up to 198 packages sold at upwards of £8,500 per person, which is a significant investment of anybody's money." A temporary brake on the spending was the volcanic ash fiasco, during which the RFU sold only one package.