Sheridan's neck injury leaves Sale seething

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Two of the best sides in England have made it through to Heineken Cup quarter-final weekend - in terms of turnstile business, the biggest 48 hours in the club rugby calendar. Bath have made it as well, but the chances of them surviving today's game with Leicester at the Walkers Stadium have been drastically undermined by the enforced absences of Matt Stevens and Steve Borthwick, both of whom are injured.

Maybe the West Country cognoscenti knew something when, to adapt one of Rowan Atkinson's more cutting one-liners, they rejected the fixture as they would have spurned a rabid dog.

Bath, the first English team to lay hands on this veritable holy grail of a trophy, in 1998, were allocated more than 8,000 tickets, of which they sold the princely total of 2,000. It cannot have been because the supporters yearned for the surroundings of Welford Road, which was considered too small a venue for the game - the Tigers' ancient den is hardly the warmest and most welcoming place on earth, as the likes of Biarritz and Stade Français have discovered over recent campaigns.

Whisper it quietly, but it seems the Recreation Ground faithful have caught the whiff of a beating and would rather spend their afternoon elsewhere. Like Siberia.

Sale, meanwhile, are in the mood to send the England hierarchy to the salt mines for their alleged mishandling of Andrew Sheridan, the formidable loose-head prop who, had he been fit to take on an equally intimidating Biarritz side in San Sebastian tomorrow, may have given the Premiership leaders the scrummaging edge they crave. Instead, he is awaiting further news on an injury he picked up before his country's Six Nations game with Ireland at Twickenham a fortnight ago - news that may leave him in the hands of the nearest orthopaedic surgeon and deny him a place on this summer's two-Test trip to Australia.

Sheridan found himself in discomfort after a training run 72 hours before the match, yet was deemed fit to face the Irish. Unsurprisingly, Sale are incandescent - not least because they packed him off for a scan the moment he returned from England duty and learned he was suffering from prolapsed disc in his neck.

He has been advised to rest for between four and six weeks before having a second scan, which will tell him exactly where he stands - or, if his luck is out, where he lays.

"It is very disappointing the injury was not scanned at the time it happened," said Philippe Saint-André, the director of rugby at Sale. "Had he not played against Ireland, the damage may not have been so bad. My medical team tell me that he simply shouldn't have played. However, he is back at Sale now and we will ensure he receives the best possible medical support. If he needs surgery, we will not risk playing him, however great our need." Ouch.

Saint-André was at least able to pitch his most prolific finishers, Mark Cueto and Jason Robinson, into the starting line-up for this meeting with the Basques, who have won nine of their last 10 matches in Le Championnat and currently top the table. Both men were injured during last weekend's blood-and-sweat contest at London Irish, but return to fill the two wing slots, with Daniel Larrechea at full-back.

Will it be enough? Probably not. Biarritz are the form team in France, to the extent that they can leave players as good as Imanol Harinordoquy and Federico Martin Arramburu on the bench.

Toulouse, the champions, have Yannick Jauzion back at centre, which could prove the undoing of Leinster, Brian O'Driscoll or no Brian O'Driscoll. If there is to be a turn-up, it may occur at Lansdowne Road. Munster start as favourites and rightly so, but Perpignan know what it takes to win big games on the road - they have prevailed over Irish opposition in Dublin before and ended Bourgoin's astonishing run of domestic home success as recently as last weekend.

While their forwards are drawn from six countries, they scrap with a common purpose. The Catalans will make it interesting, for sure.

Heineken Cup team news

* LEICESTER v BATH (Today, 12.30pm)

George Chuter returns at hooker for Leicester; the side which won at the Rec last week is otherwise unchanged. Olly Barkley is back for Bath but Steve Borthwick is out, so James Hudson steps in at lock.

* TOULOUSE v LEINSTER (Today, 3pm)

Toulouse have Yannick Jauzion back from the toe injury that kept him out of the Six Nations. Gordon D'Arcy makes his 100th appearance for Leinster.

* MUNSTER v PERPIGNAN (Today, 5.30pm)

Denis Leamy is fit for Munster, who have Tomas O'Leary, a scrum-half, in the centre. Christian Cullen may be on the bench after a long injury lay-off. Julien Laharrague, Perpignan's influential No 10, will not play.


(Tomorrow, 5pm)

Mark Cueto and Jason Robinson sustained injuries last week but will start for Sale, though Andy Sheridan will be missing. Balancing the absence of 'Big Ted', the sizeable Samoan prop Kas Lealamanu'a is not fit for Biarritz.