Saracens offer no sympathy to chastened Cardiff

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The Independent Online

The majority of rugby's really meaningful battles seem to be fought out in the courts rather than on the pitch these days, so Cardiff are merely keeping up with the Joneses by planning a legal challenge on behalf of their mothballed prop forward, Peter Rogers. Ideally, the Welsh champions would have persuaded Mr Justice Cocklecarrot of the merits of their case and secured a ruling allowing Rogers to face Saracens in today's mighty Heineken Cup rumble at Vicarage Road. Sadly for them, such judgements tend to take years, not hours.

The majority of rugby's really meaningful battles seem to be fought out in the courts rather than on the pitch these days, so Cardiff are merely keeping up with the Joneses by planning a legal challenge on behalf of their mothballed prop forward, Peter Rogers. Ideally, the Welsh champions would have persuaded Mr Justice Cocklecarrot of the merits of their case and secured a ruling allowing Rogers to face Saracens in today's mighty Heineken Cup rumble at Vicarage Road. Sadly for them, such judgements tend to take years, not hours.

Rogers, who moved from Newport to the Arms Park earlier this month, has been deemed ineligible by European Rugby Cup Ltd for failing to meet strict registration requirements. He is not alone here; Tim Horan and Norm Berryman, no less, are also on the blacklist. But Cardiff consider themselves especially hard done by. Firstly, they dispute ERC's decision on grounds of hard fact: Rogers, they say, was properly registered before the final deadline imposed by the organisers. In addition, they can point to a serious personnel shortage in their tight five. If the Welsh pack finds itself on the wrong end of a rare old pasting this afternoon, the sight of Rogers sitting in the stand will rub salt in an open wound.

Cardiff were horribly out-scrummaged by Toulouse a week ago - it was as well for them that the stricken French outfit could do very little else - and their line-out has been shambolic all season. Were it not for injuries to John Tait, the Canadian Test lock, and Steve Moore, once the great white hope of the Welsh engine room, they might be more competitive in these crucial areas. As it is, they must make do and mend. Unfortunately, Saracens have the likes of David Flatman, Paul Wallace and the formidable Danny Grewcock among their foot soldiers, and they are hardly the most sympathetic sorts.

Kyran Bracken's outfit are comfortably the most assertive of the English sides involved in the tournament: a victory on the road in Toulouse on the first weekend established the Watford glitterati as potential quarter-finalists and although they misfired for 40 minutes against Ulster last weekend, they still look the business. Not that Bracken, who squares up to an obvious Lions rival in Rob Howley this afternoon, has adopted a self-congratulatory tone over the last few days. "Ulster made us look average," said the scrum-half. "If we play like that against Cardiff, it will be difficult to come away with a result."

Saracens do not need a result nearly so badly as the six sides seeking a first victory. Northampton, Toulouse, Glasgow Caledonians, Roma and L'Aquila have a big fat zero for their efforts thus far, while Castres are even worse off: having been docked two points for fielding Berryman at Bath a fortnight ago, they need to win at Newport this afternoon just to get back to nought.

Further defeats for any of these teams will leave them miles up the River Heineken without a paddle.

Northampton, the champions, can call on Matt Dawson for the first time since May when they host Leinster at Franklin's Gardens. Dawson does not expect to last the full 80 minutes, but his recovery from a shoulder dislocation should help the Saints keep the flame flickering for another week. Bath, the other English winners of this most prestigious of tournaments, also face rugby's version of the Irish Question, and will have to find some mighty big answers in Limerick if they are to end Munster's long run of home success. Kevin Maggs, Chris Horsman and Angus Gardiner all return to the West country line-up.

Perhaps the most intriguing third-round tie takes place in Biarritz this evening. Edinburgh Reivers will pitch up at Parc des Sports d'Aguilera with two wins from two outings and, what is more, they know what it is to storm one of the Basque citadels of French rugby. "It was quite an experience, winning there in the European Shield in '97," said Graeme Burns, the scrum-half. "They had two players sent off, one for punching and the other for spitting, and we feared for our safety at the end." Charming.

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