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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK

Sport: Rugby Union

Clubs wait on new-look league

Will Carling: Will skipper Harlequins this season

The start of the new season has, so far, been overshadowed by the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, which begins on October 1.

And with many sides currently without a number of top players, who are all on World Cup duty, the league has introduced a sliding points scale which could have a marked influence on who finishes where at both ends of Premiership One

The first seven rounds of the season - up to and including World Cup final weekend - will see two points for a win, while three points will be available for victory in the closing 15 rounds.

The aim is to avoid penalising clubs who have lost players to World Cup squads, but the effect of the experiment is hard to predict.

Will the likes of champions Leicester, normally packed with internationals, be playing desperate catch-up come Easter? Or will strengths in depth among the top sides leave the league table looking familiar when the cup kings return?

Northampton v Leicester

On Saturday, 1998/99 league champions Leicester and runners-up Northampton come face to face at Franklin's Gardens. And the sides illustrate just how deeply World Cup calls have bitten into the Premiership.

Between them, the Tigers and Saints will be without close to 20 international players, not only this weekend, but until World Cup 99 ends in early November, or England, especially, are knocked out.

Northampton, like Leicester have named a 22-man squad for their Franklin's Gardens clash.

Flanker Simon Holmes, signed from Saints' rugby director John Steele's former club London Scottish, is included along with centre Matt Allen, scrum-half James Bramhall and prop Matt Volland, who all featured for the Premiership All Stars against England earlier this week.

Leicester's 22-man squad displays summer signings Ken Fourie (West Hartlepool), Ben Kay (Waterloo) and Dan Zaltzman (Bedford).

Full-back Tim Stimpson, ruled out of the All Stars match at Anfield through injury, is fit, and there could be a first Premiership start for teenage back Andy Goode.

Gloucester v Newcastle

Centres Joe Ewens and Chris Yates both make their league debuts for Gloucester, while scrum-half Elton Moncrieff is also handed a first Premiership start. The Cherry and Whites, captained by ex-Wales flanker Kingsley Jones, include French international Serge Simon among the substitutes.

Newcastle's Scotland lock Doddie Weir, who believes he is short of match practice, has been released from World Cup duty for the long trip south.

Veteran fly-half Rob Andrew is back following a serious shoulder injury that dashed his Tetley's Bitter Cup final hopes last term, while Wales A flanker Richard Arnold will captain the Falcons.

Harlequins v Bath

New skipper Will Carling leads a Harlequins side that features 36-year-old David Pears at fly-half and debutant Brendon Daniel on the left wing.

Former Canterbury and Brive prop Kevin Nepia is another newcomer, with Quins' bench including summer signings Peter Richards and Paul Graham.

Bath, whose miserable pre-season included defeats by Bridgend and Saracens, are planning a surprise recall for assistant coach Jon Callard.

The prolific goalkicking full-back did not start a Premiership match last season, and had his testimonial game nine days ago, but is also expected to captain the side ahead of New Zealand fly-half Jon Preston.

Sale v Wasps

Sale include South African recruits Janneman Brand and Craig Turvey to greet the Tetley's Bitter Cup holders at Heywood Road.

Turvey and Irish international Chris Saverimutto are battling for the scrum-half berth, while England's Barrie-Jon Mather will probably start in midfield after coming off the transfer list.

Wasps field eight of their successful Twickenham line-up, including England World Cup casualities Alex King and Will Green.

Two other players - scrum-half Martyn Wood and lock Simon Shaw - could yet feature in the World Cup as England coach Clive Woodward continues to monitor injured pair Kyran Bracken and Tim Rodber.

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Rugby Union Contents

In this section

Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

European Cup starts with a bang

Cooke blasts RFU 'puppets'

The wizards of Oz

Aussies given Jones-Hughes ultimatum

Woodward stays in England role

Skrela steps down as French coach

Gloucester face west-country clash

Gloucester stun expectant Sarries

Countdown to Europe

Lomu staying with All Blacks

Bath embarrass Newcastle

Quins scrape late win

All-whites fall to Jenkins points haul

Same old problem for Joost

Wasps reject Saracens bid

Rugby chiefs opt for fresh start

Wage cap threatens Lomu signing

Horan invited back to Cardiff

Aussies crowned world champions

Sarries swat Wasps to go top

Rugby World Cup: Must try harder

Quins steal Irish thunder

Horan named top World Cup player

Bedford go down fighting