Exiles' coach may quit

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CLIVE WOODWARD hinted that he may step down as London Irish coach during an astonishing outburst after yesterday's 25-13 win over Bedford at Sunbury - a result which virtually seals the Exiles' return to Courage League One.

The former England centre aimed his attack mainly at the Irish Rugby Football Union, saying: "Dublin need to sort themselves out. I'm not here to get stuffed around. I want the players to play for Ireland but the club is owed a duty as well.

"Last November I got a call from Pat Whelan (Ireland's team manager) pulling out three players five days before a league game for a training session for a Mickey Mouse game against Fiji two weeks later. They have to understand what happens over here. It takes time and effort to train international players.

"If they want to come over here to coach three nights a week 12 months a year that's fine but I will not allow the players to be taken for granted. If I am going to stay here next season there needs to be a clear understanding with Dublin and the players.

"We have got back into the first division in spite of the people in Ireland, not with their backing at all. We have no chance of being successful in division one if they behave in the same way as they have done during this season."

Woodward was also unimpressed with the Exiles' display against Bedford who led for 35 minutes through a penalty by Simon Smith, but tries from Garry Halpin, David Humphreys, Justin Bishop and Nick Briers eventually saw them through.

Sale revived their chances of becoming England's fourth representative in next season's European Cup with a scrappy 18-15 League One win over Saracens.

The Cheshire side, thrashed 55-0 at Harlequins last weekend but now only trailing fourth-placed Wasps on points difference, owed their victory to a spectacular try early in the second half from debutant Neil Ryan, who had come on as a replacement for the injured New Zealand wing Chris Yates.

Ryan, who is normally a fly-half, intercepted the ball inside his own 22 and ran the length of the pitch to touch down. Sale's two other tries came from scrum-half Mark Warr and full-back Rob Liley, who kicked a penalty as well. Saracens' tries were scored by their giant wing Kris Chesney and fly-half Gareth Hughes who was also on target with a penalty and a conversion.

West Hartlepool appear certain to finish bottom of League One following their 44-22 home defeat by mid-table Orrell, and must now pray that the senior clubs succeed in their plan to scrap relegation from the top flight this season. Two of Orrell's six tries were run in by Ian Wynn while the Ireland full-back Simon Mason contributed 19 points to the visitors' cause.

Northampton are one point away from their confirmation as League Two champions after beating Newcastle 26-5. The England fly-half Paul Grayson kicked 16 points and the try scorers were Matt Allen and Harvey Thorneycroft. Newcastle's only reply was a Tony Underwood try.

In Wales, Neath made light of a 14-7 half-time deficit to hammer Abertillery 50-24 and stretch their lead at the top of the Heineken First Division to six points over Pontypridd. Llanelli, in second place yesterday morning, lost 29-21 at Bridgend.

At the Arms Park, Cardiff outlasted the Barbarians 49-43 and Nigel Walker, who scored a hat-trick in the same fixture last year, collected two tries this time.