Tough task for Saint-Andre's depleted force

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The Independent Online

The best way that Gloucester can regard their first Zurich Premiership visit to Rotherham would be to view Clifton Lane as a home from home. The Cherry and Whites can certainly expect the same sort of reception from the Rotherham equivalent that visitors to Kingsholm receive from the notorious 'Shed'.

The best way that Gloucester can regard their first Zurich Premiership visit to Rotherham would be to view Clifton Lane as a home from home. The Cherry and Whites can certainly expect the same sort of reception from the Rotherham equivalent that visitors to Kingsholm receive from the notorious 'Shed'.

Rotherham fear few, if any. Bedford went there at the end of last season as a Premiership One club, they left it as second class citizens, relegated after failing to better the Yorkshire club's points aggregate over the two legs of the play-off.

Gloucester arrive there today in a similar situation to Rotherham. Two games, two defeats. But where Rotherham have finally been able to field key players for this match, Philippe Saint-André, the Gloucester coach, has a team's worth of players on the casualty list.

His problems were exacerbated further when Jawad Djoudi, their Moroccan international hooker, was banned for 10 weeks last Wednesday for a head-butt on Saracens wing, Darragh O'Mahony.

Saint-André, while accepting Djoudi's punishment as something the player deserved, still feels the suspension punishes the club more than the individual. He has fined Djoudi around £1,000 for the moment of madness.

And, by a neat twist of irony Saint André, the former France international wing, has managed to persuade Saracens to part temporarily with one of their hookers, Marek Kwisiuk, to provide cover for the middle of the front row, since Chris Fortey is injured.

At least Andy Gomarsall, signed from Bedford over the summer, finally makes his debut for Gloucester, after injury forced him to miss the play-offs. His aggression and experience will provide some threat from behind the scrum, but this one promises to be close.

"We are expecting a very physical, very tough match," said Saint-André.

"This game at Rotherham will be a real war and it is a match we must win, but we know it is going to be very hard.

"Last year we started so well, but this season it has not been good. We have anything from 14 to 17 on the injury list. But we have also been playing good rugby, particularly for 35 minutes against Saracens."

Unfortunately that was a match which saw Gloucester concede 50 points. And Saint-André, having watched Rotherham run Bristol desperately close in the first match of the season, was impressed by what he saw of the Premiership newcomers. "They displayed a good spirit and they have a lot of pride. We will not be able to let up for 80 minutes, maybe 85 even."

For their part, Rotherham are pleased with their start overall. "We don't like losing," admitted Steve Cousins, their director of rugby, "but we have shown ourselves to be very competitive."

And they too have had their problems, not least over visas for players, including Canada international, Mike Schmid. "While none of them will be 100 per cent fit, at least we are picking pretty well our first choice side," Cousins said. With a fervent crowd and a near full house of around 5,000 Gloucester will have their work cut out.

So too will leaders Saracens, who are London Irish's first visitors at the Madejski Stadium. Thomas Castaignÿde is back after his nuptials last week.

Squad rotation means that David Flatman, Danny Grewcock and Tony Roques all start, while Paul Wallace, Bill Davison and Tony Diprose, sit things out on the bench. Irish, who have won one and lost one in their opening two fixtures, field the exciting former Bedford wing, Paul Sackey in place of Nnamdi Ezulike, who injured a shoulder in training.

Bath, who walloped Wasps last week, have been given a lift with the return to fitness of Iain Balshaw. The 21-year-old wing underwent a groin operation last May but features among the Bath replacements against Harlequins at the Recreation Ground.

Reigning Premiership champions Leicester expect to have Tim Stimpson in the side against Northampton, despite the fact that the full-back was punched out of the game at Newcastle last week.

But Saints are without Garry Pagel (calf strain), so Martin Scelzo deputises at loosehead with Mattie Stewart propping on the tight-head. Wales centre Allan Bateman has recovered from the neck strain and returns at centre. Tim Rodber switches from second row to blindside flanker, Jon Phillips partnering Olivier Brouzet at lock.

Newcastle have received clearance form the International Board to play hooker Ross Nesdale, despite the fact that he was concussed in a friendly fewer than the mandatory 21 days ago.

Another victim of concussion in that match against Leeds on 14 August, Jamie Noon, is also in the squad.

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