No hard feelings insists Leicester boss Richards

Dean Richards has dismissed the prospect of tomorrow’s Zurich Championship play-off clash between Leicester and Bristol developing into a grudge match.

Dean Richards has dismissed the prospect of tomorrow’s Zurich Championship play-off clash between Leicester and Bristol developing into a grudge match.

The clubs meet at Welford Road just a fortnight after an ill-tempered Premiership tussle saw two players sent off and another cited for alleged foul play by the independent citing commissioner.

Bristol’s England prop Julian White and Leicester back-row forward Adam Balding are both banned after being dismissed for fighting, but Bristol fly-half Felipe Contepomi is available following a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel’s decision to dismiss the citing.

Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler also infuriated Tigers’ West Country opponents by criticising certain Bristol players in a local newspaper column, sparking an angry response from Shoguns’ coach Dean Ryan.

Richards though, believes there will not be an under-current flowing through the quarter-final encounter.

‘‘There is no ill-feeling,’’ said the Leicester coach. ‘‘We just want to get on and play the game, and I am sure that Bristol are in exactly the same frame of mind.’’

A Leicester victory would keep them on course for arguably their greatest achievement,- a double treble.

Having won the Premiership title, play-off crown and Heineken Cup last season, they are just four wins away from repeating that astounding feat.

And although the play-offs, which come at the end of a stamina-sapping nine-month domestic season, have been condemned in various quarters as being a tournament too far, Richards has targeted a concerted Tigers’ push to reach the Twickenham final on June 8.

‘‘This game is important in many ways,’’ he added.

‘‘Firstly, it’s a game that Leicester want to win; secondly, this competition offers a trophy that we currently hold and want to retain; and thirdly, it is our last game in terms of preparation for next Saturday when we face Munster in the Heineken Cup final.’’

A Bristol defeat would end their distant hopes of Heineken Cup qualification, and aid Newcastle’s European bid in the process.

Falcons, who finished sixth in the Premiership, will only fail to qualify if they don’t reach the play-off final themselves and Wasps or Bristol do.

A Bristol defeat tomorrow would put fifth-placed Northampton into Europe next term, rendering Saints’ trip to London Irish on Sunday relatively meaningless.

Irish have already secured a Heineken Cup place, and will not be anything like at full-strength given injuries to several players, including Brendan Venter, Chris Sheasby and Declan Danaher.

Saints are also struggling on the fitness front, with wing Ben Cohen, centre Peter Jorgensen and lock Johan Ackermann all sidelined.

Skipper Budge Pountney and centre Mark Tucker are both rated doubtful, while Joe Shaw, James Brooks and Dan Richmond are suffering from a virus that has hit the Northampton camp this week.

‘‘I couldn’t say who is going to be right, or who is not,’’ admitted Saints coach Wayne Smith.

‘‘There has been no fizz at all about this game, and we’ve got a bit of work to do mentally, between now and Sunday.’’

Sunday’s other play-off game is between Sale and Heywood Road visitors Wasps, where the Londoners will parade hooker Phil Greening at openside flanker and full-back Josh Lewsey in the number 10 jersey.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox