Rugby Union: Newcastle put Stimpson on the transfer list

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The Independent Online
Tim Stimpson, the England and Lions full-back, last night became the highest-profile player to find himself transfer-listed by his club. Chris Hewett reports on a dramatic turn of events at Newcastle's Kingston Park.

He runs like a stag, kicks like a mule and scores points by the cartload - 127 so far this season, to be precise. Yet Tim Stimpson is suddenly surplus to requirements at league leaders Newcastle and his problems at club level may very well compromise his immediate international future.

Rob Andrew, the former England outside-half who rules Newcastle with a rod of iron from his position as director of rugby, flatly refused to shed light on his decision last night. But the mutual dissatisfaction between club and player has been well documented of late and Stimpson's inability to find a place in the Falcons' starting line-up has spoken volumes.

Newcastle sources cited contractual disagreements as the nub of the problem, but Stimpson has also been highly critical of what some see as Newcastle's bovine style of play. The 24-year-old Liverpudlian was first dropped by Andrew after scoring 23 of his side's 26 points in their European Conference victory over Biarritz last month and, with thigh problems exacerbating an already fraught situation, he has scarcely featured since.

John Bentley, who played alongside Stimpson for both England and the Lions during the summer, has also been marginalised recently, although he turned out at London Irish at the weekend. It is unclear whether he has succeeded in ironing out his differences with Andrew, or whether his future at the club is equally bleak.

Stimpson joined Newcastle from neighbouring West Hartlepool, where he had been captain, in May 1996 and made an immediate and spectacular impact, winning his first full cap almost exactly a year ago. Regarded as one of the most exciting natural talents to emerge in England in a generation, he proved himself a world-class goal-kicker with the Lions and looked set to take over the role for his country against Australia in a little under a fortnight. It remains to be seen whether Clive Woodward, the new national coach, keeps faith with a player so deeply in dispute with his club.

Both Harlequins and Leicester will be interested in Stimpson's services, which will certainly cost six figures and possibly as much as pounds 250,000. But the dark horses may well turn out to be Bath, who are looking for a goalkicking full-back to take over from Jon Callard, who is moving into the coaching arena.

Last night, neither Stimpson nor his agent would discuss the situation. It is unlikely that he will play in Newcastle's Conference quarter-final with Castres this weekend.