Saracens on the scent

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While it may not quite qualify as a true giant-killing act, if Saracens beat Harlequins at The Stoop in the fourth round of the Pilkington Cup this afternoon they will certainly be more than satisfied. Sarries seek to remind us that they are alive and kicking and heading back towards the big time. A victory over their London rivals would make the point perfectly.

As one of the four clubs to drop out of the First Division in the 1992-93 restructuring season of the long knives, Saracens are presently sitting pretty on a four-point lead at the head of the Second. And, with a little help from a certain friend, who isto say they are not capable of overthrowing a side hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone?

Indeed Saracens, you might say, have been enjoying the best of both worlds. When Dick Best returned to Quins as paid director of rugby at the beginning of the month, something quite slipped his mind in the build-up to this first major task back in charge. "I'd forgotten all about it, but I was chatting to my wife and she said, `Didn't you go along there in September'.

"I said `you're right there'. I've actually been up to Saracens this season coaching. I know their coach quite well and he invited me to do a session. At that stage I wasn't involved with Quins. It'll be quite funny to see them again." Not quite so funny, of course, if Sarries succeed in pulling off an upset. "It's probably the pick of the draw and a few people sniff blood," Best said.

As Best noted, the Sarries' back row factory is still turning out polished performers following the loss to other clubs of Ben Clarke, Dean Ryan, Chris Tarbuck and Eric Peters - not to mention Justyn Cassell who, along with the England prop, Jason Leonard, made the switch to Quins.

Today, Quins are confronted by Richard Hill and Tony Diprose, who made their mark in this season's Divisional Championship and against Canada for the Emerging Players, and the No 8, Barry Crawley, who is not to be under-rated. That leaves John Green, another outstanding back row who has had the distinction of captaining England Students and playing for the Welsh and Irish Exiles, gritting his teeth out of position at lock.

Elsewhere, Bath, the holders and the very model of consistency, head for London Scottish with their make-up complete following the return of Jeremy Guscott and Clark from a modelling assignment in California.

"It's all right for some," the Scots might groan, who nevertheless have not lost their sense of humour. The Scottish back row of Iain Morrison, Simon Holmes and Ian Dixon, none of whom top six foot, are referred to collectively as the three dwarfs. The joke continues with a move involving the trio entitled "Hi, ho". On this occasion, one has to say the Scots appear to be in for the high jump.

In Wales, meanwhile, fourth round cup business is also on the agenda, which guarantees that Cardiff, the holders, take the visiting Merthyr for granted at their peril. It was two seasons ago, in the fifth round, that St Peter's the juniors from the suburbs, took the capital by storm with a 16-14 victory at the Arms Park.

Nor are Merthyr short on talent because locking their scrum is Steve Sutton, who won nine caps for Wales. At 6ft 6in he may not exactly be a giant by modern standards, but the absence of Cardiff's 6ft 10in Derwyn Jones with a strained back can only help the underdogs' cause. "I'm 36 now, " Sutton said "and I was thinking of taking a step ladder on to the field."