Regan central to Leeds' unlikely push for glory

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The Independent Online

Without getting too Monty Pythonish about things, it's tough up north. Leeds, largely anonymous for much of the Premiership campaign, suddenly found themselves isolated at the bottom of the table a few weeks ago, staring relegation and all the nasty things that go with it - financial implosion, player departures, redundancies - directly in the eyeballs. In a bold bid to save their own bacon, they somehow contrived to beat Leicester at home and Gloucester away, yet they are still up to their necks in quicksand. Luxury, pure luxury.

Without getting too Monty Pythonish about things, it's tough up north. Leeds, largely anonymous for much of the Premiership campaign, suddenly found themselves isolated at the bottom of the table a few weeks ago, staring relegation and all the nasty things that go with it - financial implosion, player departures, redundancies - directly in the eyeballs. In a bold bid to save their own bacon, they somehow contrived to beat Leicester at home and Gloucester away, yet they are still up to their necks in quicksand. Luxury, pure luxury.

By way of making life even more difficult for themselves, they have found their way into this afternoon's Powergen Cup showpiece at Twickenham. This would be good news, were it not for the fact that they must face Bath - the entire city, rather than the rugby club. Bath have one of the most formidable packs in English rugby, a top-of-the-range marksman in Olly Barkley, at least 30,000 supporters and a cup tradition to die for. One way or another, Leeds are up against it.

Even if they prevail today, they will not be guaranteed the competitive and commercial stimulus of a Heineken Cup campaign next season. Should they fail to win either of their last two Premiership games and descend into National Division One, their place in Europe will go to one of the mid-table finishers in the élite league.

On the face of it, then, it is remarkable that Leeds are as bullish as they are about their first major cup final and by some distance the biggest game in their brief 14-year history. Jon Callard, their coach, said this week that he is "in awe" of the way his side are performing, while Mark Regan, their experienced hooker, predicted that he and his colleagues would play a "pressure-free game". Anyone would think they were anticipating victory.

Perhaps they are. They certainly have enough inside knowledge to do a job on Bath, for both Callard and Regan moved to Headingley from the Recreation Ground, as did the captain, Iain Balshaw. Phil Christophers, their gifted outside centre, played a good deal of rugby just along the road at Bristol. Regan, in particular, understands the Bath scrum and line-out, and if he disrupts his old colleagues as comprehensively as he unsettled Leicester's pack three weeks ago, there will certainly be fun and games.

Indeed, this could be a rough match. If Danny Grewcock and Steve Borthwick, Bath's magnificent second-row partnership, are not noted for their reverse gear, the Leeds lock Stuart Hooper and his back-row colleague Richard Parks also have more of the deadly nightshade than the shrinking violet about them. Much will depend on the line-out, where Borthwick, struggling with shoulder trouble, takes on Tom Palmer, who is equally adept at pilfering opposition ball.

Wasps, who welcome the battling hordes from Worcester to the Causeway Stadium tomorrow, have confirmed that Ian McGeechan, perhaps the most influential figure in the annals of the British and Irish Lions, will succeed Warren Gatland as director of rugby next season.

McGeechan has resigned from a similar role with the Scottish Rugby Union and will start working with the reigning Premiership champions when he returns from this summer's Lions tour of New Zealand, where he will serve as a member of Sir Clive Woodward's coaching staff.

McGeechan has agreed a two-year deal after rejecting overtures from Bath and will be joined at the top end of the Wasps operation by a new technical analyst, Leon Holden.

Shaun Edwards, the former rugby league international whose contribution to Wasps' outstanding run of success as Gatland's second-in-command has been considerable, will remain in the position he currently occupies.

Leeds: I Balshaw (capt); A Snyman, P Christophers, C Bell, T Biggs; G Ross, A Dickens; M Shelley, M Regan, G Kerr, S Hooper, T Palmer, S Morgan, R Parks, A Popham. Replacements: M Holt, R Rawlinson, J Dunbar, D Hyde, M McMillan, C McMullen, D Albanese.

Bath: M Perry; J Maddock, A Higgins, O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, N Walshe; M Stevens, L Mears, D Bell, S Borthwick (capt), D Grewcock, G Lewis, J Scaysbrook, I Fea'unati. Replacements: J Humphreys, D Flatman, R Fidler, G Delve, B Daniel, M Wood, R Davis.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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