Pichot injury niggles Bristol

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Today's visit of Newcastle to the Memorial Ground affords Bristol an excellent opportunity to continue the form that brought them their historic win over Bath a fortnight ago.

Today's visit of Newcastle to the Memorial Ground affords Bristol an excellent opportunity to continue the form that brought them their historic win over Bath a fortnight ago.

That victory was important to the club because it was their first victory over their local rivals since 1988 and their first ever in the Zurich Premiership, and although Newcastle are among a group of clubs chasing the League leaders, Leic-ester, their poor away form will encourage the home side.

However, Bristol are without their inspirational scrum-half, Agustin Pichot, who niggled a hamstring playing for the Barbarians last Sunday. His try and all-round performance won the match against Bath and his loss removes a lot of Bristol's attacking threat around the fringes. "These things are regrettable. He is a cutting edge for our side,'' admitted Dean Ryan, the Bristol coach, "but we have a quality replacement in Gareth Baber.''

Jamie Mayer will also start in the centre, replacing the injured Leigh Davies, and Spencer Brown has recovered from a neck injury and is on the bench. But the mouth-watering battle in the back is between David Rees and Inga Tuigamala, although how long the Samoan stays on the wing is open to question.

Newcastle were more threatening in their recently televised cup match against London Irish when Tuigamala played infield and ran at the opposing centres. His strength and power enable him to break the gain line and make yards before setting an inviting target for his forwards to continue the drive. Stopping Tuiga- mala is crucial if Bristol are to win the game, a fact readily acknowledged by Rees.

"He is a very dangerous player and a key strike runner,'' said the Bristol winger. "You have to be in his face all the time. When you tackle him he tends to get back up again and you have to watch that.'' Newcastle are also boosted by the return of their captain and Scottish international Doddie Weir.

In the other League fixture today Saracens welcome back their international contingent for the visit of Harlequins and hope that they can break their losing streak. Beset by injuries and international calls, they have lost their last three League games. Duncan Mc-Rae is definitely out due to the broken rib which he allegedly sustained last weekend via the knee of the England captain, Martin Johnson. With so few options available, Francois Pienaar may pick Tim Horan at fly-half for what would only be the great Australian's fourth start for the club.

Harlequins will be hoping to reproduce their cup form - they reached the Tetley's Bitter semi-finals by defeating Northampton last weekend - in the League, where they have only won two of their 11 matches. Whoever wins, though, there is potential for many points as Saracens and Harlequins lead the bonus points total with seven each.

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