Bateman's warning to Saints
February 11, 2000

Allan Bateman has warned Premiership leaders Northampton to be on their guard when Bristol's "galaxy of stars" arrive at Franklin's Gardens tomorrow.

Northampton, seeking an unprecedented trophy treble of Premiership title, Heineken Cup and Tetley's Bitter Cup, should prove too strong for a team 13 points and seven positions below them.

But Saints' Welsh international centre Bateman believes it will be no walk in the park.

"Bristol have got a galaxy of stars that they can call upon," said Bateman, planning to prove his fitness before Wales' Six Nations clash with Italy tomorrow week.

"Their problem in the league this season has been consistency, but they are capable of turning on a quality performance at any time let's hope it is not on Saturday."

Injured fly-half Paul Grayson is the only notable Northampton absentee, while Bristol are braced to be without their number 10 South African Henry Honiball who has hamstring trouble.

Newcastle could hand "the best centre in Britain" a Premiership debut at Leicester tomorrow.

That is Falcons boss Rob Andrew's description of new Scotland skipper John Leslie, who was paraded before the cameras at Kingston Park this week after agreeing terms on Tyneside.

Leslie limped off early during Scotland's embarrassing Six Nations flop against Italy last Saturday, and although the New Zealander expects to have recovered from a hip injury in time, Andrew won't reveal his starting line-up until just before kick-off.

But whether Leslie plays or not, Andrew clearly expects big things from him and England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, recent signatory to a new two-year contract.

"John Leslie joining us was a huge sign to Jonny that we meant business,'' Andrew said. "In my opinion, John is the best centre in Britain, and he will help to develop Jonny."

If Leslie features against third-placed Tigers at Welford Road Newcastle were the last team to win a league match there more than two years ago then either wing Inga Tuigamala or prop Marius Hurter must drop out due to overseas player restrictions.

Andrew's main worry is the back-row, where injuries rule out Peter Walton and Steve O'Neill, while Richard Arnold serves a one-match bin following three sin-bin visits this term.

Leicester, demolished in the Tetley's Bitter Cup by London Irish last time out, must battle on minus their concussed captain Martin Johnson. Wings Leon Lloyd and Geordan Murphy are also sidelined.

Gloucester, one point behind Northampton in second spot, travel to Sale where England hookers Phil Greening and Neil McCarthy are on opposite sides.

The Cherry and Whites' impressive three month unbeaten league record ended at Saracens just over a fortnight ago, but they remain serious title contenders.

Scrum-half Elton Moncrieff (broken wrist) is the only notable absentee Laurie Beck or Ian Sanders will deputise and Welsh international Byron Hayward returns following a two-match club suspension.

Bath, unbeaten in six matches since their Tetley's Bitter Cup defeat by Gloucester on January 3, entertain Premiership basement boys Bedford.

Club skipper Phil de Glanville starts his first league game for ten weeks England new boy Mike Tindall drops to the replacements' bench as a result but
Tindall's fellow Twickenham heroes Mike Catt, Matt Perry and Iain Balshaw all start.

Bedford, still seeking an elusive victory after 11 Premiership starts this term, welcome back skipper Andy Gomarsall from England duty. Loan signings Dave Sims and Duncan Hughes are among the substitutes.

London Irish tackle tenants Harlequins at The Stoop in a midtable derby, looking to build on their recent cup demolition of Leicester.

The Exiles' stunning 47-7 success a fortnight ago sent shock waves reverberating around English rugby, and coach Dick Best is now seeking consistency.

"The Leicester victory was a credit to the players' fitness," Best said, before packing his squad off on a pre lanned week's holiday.

Fly-half Stephen Bachop returns ollowing a lengthy absence due to calf uscle trouble Italian Six Nations ebutant Marco Rivaro also starts but njuries rule out Justin Bishop, Michael orak, Robert Todd and Mark Gabey.

Sunday's Premiership action features nother all-London affair, this time at Loftus Road, where Wasps host Saracens.

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