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The fear factor rules

Cold turkey in rugby terms is surely having to play a league match on Boxing Day. All of which might leave top Englishmen warm and snug, not to mention smug, with their feet up in front of the fire and not in the least bit envious of what some Wel shmen have on their plate this afternoon.

Having spread the Heineken League fixtures across four days over the festive season - "to avoid losing players to Christmas shopping'', so we are told - Pontypool and Neath have drawn what most would consider to be the shortest of straws and must play today.

Indeed, cold turkey is appropriate fare for this pair, even though Cardiff's runaway season was checked to some extent on Thursday night at the Arms Park by second-placed Pontypridd.

This defeat of the leaders still leaves Neath eight points off the pace in mid-table. The warmest thing on their plate today could well be the reception awaiting them after their journey from the The Gnoll.

Once the Gwent side to be feared, Pontypool may have the No 8 Gareth Taylor in outstanding form and pressing for a call from the Welsh selectors but nowadays it is fear itself that is on their side. Fear of relegation, that is, as they and Newport look at life from the bottom of the pack.

As for Newport, who suffered their ninth defeat in 12 matches in the league at Newbridge on Wednesday, they will at least tempt some Englishmen from the fireside when they make the short hop across the Severn to the Memorial Ground, where rugby life is considerably rosier.

Bristol may have given up all hope of catching their West Country rivals Bath in the Courage league, but they have just thumped Nottingham in the Pilkington Cup and are looking forward with a certain amount of confidence to their home fifth-round tie ag

a inst Leicester at the end of next month.

Their appetite for success stems not least from the appearance of an old stalwart at training. Alan Morley, like so many Bristolians, has been helping out at Third Division Clifton, but the England wing who made over 500 appearances for Bristol and scored nearly 500 tries in his playing career has turned up recently in a coaching role at his former club.

A club spokesman said: "He's not quite sure how well he would fit in on a regular basis. But the lads responded to him very well and they were quite happy. Mark Tainton in particular found his approach refreshing."