Andrew close to major signing

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Newcastle - more specifically Rob Andrew - finally expect to make a big- name announcement this week. But whether either or both of the Underwood brothers will be involved appears to depend on further talks not only with Newcastle but also with the England wings' present club, Leicester.

Yesterday Tony Underwood preferred to keep his counsel at his Hertfordshire home, but if there is a sticking-point it could be the Rugby Football Union's continued application of its 120-day stand-down period for transferring players.

This is widely expected to be abandoned at the end of this month and, if it is not, the RFU can expect a legal challenge. Meanwhile Tony's recovery from a knee operation will take at least another six or seven weeks.

The Underwoods are obvious targets for Andrew in his new guise as "the Kevin Keegan of rugby", otherwise known as rugby development director of Newcastle United Sporting Club. They have lifelong connections with the North-east and attended school in Co Durham with Andrew.

Their mother, the noted TV personality Annie, continues to live in Castle Barnard, 50 miles south of Newcastle. Tony recently gave up his job in the City of London, while Rory, England's most-capped player, is a pilot in the Royal Air Force posted temporarily in Cyprus.

Having been knocked back by a succession of players - most publicly, Garath Archer, Martin Corry and Alan Sharp of Bristol and Mick Watson of Harlequins - Newcastle have an increasing need for the psychological lift of one or two major signings.

And there is also the practical need to get newcomers registered so that they will be eligible for the Second Division run-in if the 120- day rule persists. Already Graham Childs, the England A centre who joined West Hartlepool from Wasps this season, has diverted north to Newcastle.

The Welsh Rugby Union is to appoint a director of rugby over and above the Wales coach with the task of producing a successful team in time for the 1999 World Cup, which the WRU will host. The union's preferred choice for the pounds 60,000 position is understood to be the former Scotland and Lions coach, Ian McGeechan, who has been Northampton's coaching director for the past year.

Having paid his pounds 9,000 fine and served his 30-day suspension for laying out Derwyn Jones of Wales, Kobus Wiese is back in the South African second row for the Test against Italy on 12 November that precedes their meeting with England at Twickenham six days later. The Springboks have three changes from the team who beat the Welsh in September and field 12 of their World Cup-winning XV.

SOUTH AFRICA (v Italy, Rome, 12 November): A Joubert; J Small (Natal), J Mulder, H le Roux (Transvaal), C Williams; J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); S Swart, J Dalton (Transvaal), T Laubscher (Western Province), J Wiese (Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), F Van Heerden (Western Province), F Pienaar (Transvaal, capt), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal). Replacements: J Olivier (Northern Transvaal), H Honiball (Natal), J Roux, C Rossouw (Transvaal), T van der Linde (Western Province), R Straeuli (Transvaal).