Return of Quinnell sounds red alert for Wasps

English clubs face early European tests as Bath host Toulouse and Llanelli head for London
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The Independent Online

The last time Scott Quinnell played at Loftus Road, he was a fraction of a second late in knocking seven bells out of Lawrence Dallaglio and was made to pay for his tardiness by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee. Happily, Quinnell's sense of timing has improved since he left the bright lights of Richmond for the green, green grass of home midway through last season. The Wales No 8 has recovered from a knee injury and is 99 per cent certain to play for Llanelli at Wasps in the two clubs' Heineken Cup opener tomorrow.

The last time Scott Quinnell played at Loftus Road, he was a fraction of a second late in knocking seven bells out of Lawrence Dallaglio and was made to pay for his tardiness by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee. Happily, Quinnell's sense of timing has improved since he left the bright lights of Richmond for the green, green grass of home midway through last season. The Wales No 8 has recovered from a knee injury and is 99 per cent certain to play for Llanelli at Wasps in the two clubs' Heineken Cup opener tomorrow.

With a second member of the Red Dragons' World Cup back five, Chris Wyatt, also fit for the fray despite gashing his head in a Welsh-Scottish League victory over Edinburgh Reivers last weekend, Llanelli look handsomely equipped to test Wasps' continental credentials to the full. But then, there are superior contests in every nook and cranny of the northern hemisphere landscape over the next 24 hours or so: from Bath and Swansea to Limerick and Treviso via Paris and Colomiers, a quaint little communist suburb of Toulouse, the pre-eminent club competition in world rugby is open for business.

Toulouse themselves must tackle Bath at the Recreation Ground without three World Cup performers: Xavier Garbajosa and Cedric Soulette are both injured, while Christian Califano, probably the best prop north of the equator, is still serving a suspension imposed for butting Joeli Veitayaki during France's World Cup game with Fiji in... you guessed it, Toulouse.

Elsewhere, some big names have fallen foul of the selectors rather than the disciplinarians. Arwel Thomas, the gifted Swansea outside-half, has been dropped in favour of Lee Davies for this afternoon's meeting with Padova, while another proven stand-off, Lee Jarvis, has been given the elbow by Pontypridd. Ceri Sweeney, a 19-year-old member of last season's Welsh Youth XV, faces Munster today.

Stade Français, obvious contenders for this season's title, are preparing for life without their outstanding coach, Bernard Laporte, who is a clear front-runner for the national post vacated by Jean-Claude Skrela earlier this week. Max Guazzini, the multi-millionaire media mogul responsible for financing the Parisian club to their current lofty position at the top of the Tricolore ladder, said yesterday that he would not stand in Laporte's way if he received the call from Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French Rugby Federation.

Meanwhile, the second-tier European Shield competition works up a head of steam today with 12 matches in five countries. One glance at the French contingent - an 11-strong band including Abdel Benazzi's Agen, Christophe Lamaison's Brive, Thomas Castaignÿde's Castres and Raphael Ibañez's Perpignan - lends credence to the suspicion that this weekend's European programme takes northern hemisphere club rugby into a different stratosphere. "The Shield is a tougher competition than the Heineken Cup itself," said Shane Howarth, the Newport captain, yesterday. Maybe, maybe not. Much to Europe's credit, there is nothing in it either way.

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