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Saints sweating on Dawson fitness
April 21, 2000

Northampton scrum-half Matt Dawson will have a late fitness test before deciding whether to make his comeback in tomorrow's top-of-the-table Premiership clash with Bath at Franklin's Gardens.

Dawson has been struggling with a rib injury since England's Calcutta Cup defeat at Murrayfield.

And, though Dom Malone has proved to be an able deputy, with the Saints' title hopes on the line following the defeat against Harlequins at the Stoop on Wednesday, Dawson's presence could be vital alongside Paul Grayson at half-back.

"It isn't clear how fit he is,"admitted Northampton coach John Steele,
"but he does have a chance."

Centre Allan Bateman is definitely out, while Jon Sleightholme could miss the rest of the season after damaging his shoulder at the Stoop.

Having made eight changes from the side which secured a place in the last-four of the Heineken Cup last Sunday, Steele is likely to name the strongest side available to him for a match neither side can afford to lose in their pursuit of Leicester at the top of the table.

And that should mean a return to action for Scotland flanker Budge Pountney, who has been a pivotal figure in Northampton's Treble drive.

"Budge is a key player for us," said Steele.

"If we want him to be effective in May then we need to give him a bit of time to recharge his batteries.

"But tomorrow's game is of huge importance, so it is likely we will bring him back."

Bath, who have driven themselves into title contention with an unbeaten run stretching back to January 3, should have flanker Angus Gardiner back after a two week absence with a chest injury.

At Heywood Road, Leicester will be clear favourites to gain maximum points from their visit to Sale.

But, after a convincing win against fourth-placed Gloucester at Welford Road on Tuesday, coach Dean Richards is warning against complacency.

"It is a typical situation," he said. "We have played so well in one game, there is a danger that you can go into the next one and take things for granted.

"We cannot afford to do that because Sale have pushed teams hard recently and have started to fire as well."

Barrie Jon Mather is set to return after missing last week's defeat at Bath with an ankle injury.

"Team spirit is high but I wish we had a squad with the depth of Leicester's," said Sale director of rugby Adrian Hadley.

"Their problem must be keeping all their players happy."

Wasps travel to Gloucester hoping to keep their European qualification hopes alive with a win.

Coach Nigel Melville has had to lift his players after a demoralising loss to Bristol in midweek but believes the Londoners will pull through.

"This game couldn't come quickly enough," said Melville.

"It will be a tough game because they are also looking to bounce back from a defeat which has probably stopped them going for the championship."

London Irish had their own European hopes dented in midweek but will expect to plunge Bedford to the brink of a relegation play-off, probably against Rotherham.

James Cockle makes his first appearance for the visitors since returning from Worcester, so Ray Winters moves up to the second row.

Danny Saltzman and Adrian Olver are both out but Scotland A man Alistair Murdoch comes in at centre after recovering from a rib injury.

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