Rugby Union: Pienaar planning hero's return

FRANCOIS PIENAAR rejoices in his well-earned reputation as a big game performer and, true to form, Saracens' player-coach intends to resume his love affair with an adoring Watford public by returning to Premiership action in the biggest game of the season so far. Assuming he survives a second team run-out against Wasps next Tuesday, he will include himself in the squad to face Leicester at Vicarage Road five days later.

South Africa's World Cup-winning captain, sidelined since undergoing minor knee surgery during the summer, is guaranteed a Springbok-sized welcome. Saracens confidently expect a crowd of 16,000 plus for their set-to with Martin Johnson's pacesetting Tigers, a sure sign of the growing discrepancy between the haves and have-nots of the Premiership.

The big boys are doing quite nicely, thank you; Leicester's average gate is up around the 13,000 mark while Sarries, Richmond, Bath and Gloucester also report encouraging levels of interest. Sadly, business is nowhere near as brisk elsewhere. London Scottish, West Hartlepool, Sale and, alarmingly for Chris Wright and his bank account, Wasps, are pulling in less than 3,000 a time. There are growing indications that Wright is thinking long and hard about the financial viability of keeping the 1997 champions at Loftus Road.

Bedford, another top flight club struggling to stay afloat in a sea of economic hardship, were sending out more upbeat signals yesterday. Officials refused to divulge details of Tuesday's meeting between Frank Warren, the owner, and Geoff Cooke, a transparently unsettled chief executive - indeed, they declined to discuss any internal matters whatsoever - but Rudi Straeuli and his charges were hopeful that, unlike last month, their salary cheques would be paid on time.

Ironically, given his inspirational performance against Leicester at Goldington Road on Saturday, Straeuli has stepped down from the side for the weekend visit to Bath. Problems at scrum-half have prompted a recall for the New Zealander Simon Crabb and with Alistair Murdoch, an Australian, well nigh undroppable in midfield, the overseas player slots are used up. James Cockle, once on Bath's books as a promising loose forward, replaces Straeuli at No 8.

Overseas registration rules are a thing of the past for Patricio Noriega, however. The 26-year-old Argentinian prop, one of the great modern day scrummagers and an undoubted star of the last World Cup, has completed a three-year residency in Australia and will almost certainly visit England and France with the Wallabies in November.

Noriega was capped 22 times by the Pumas before settling in Canberra and agreeing Super 12 terms with the ACT Brumbies. In the likely event of his forcing a place in the Australian Test side - Rod Macqueen, the national coach, welcomed him on board yesterday by describing him as "unique" - he will emulate another supreme Argentinian prop, Enrique Rodriguez, who anchored the Wallaby scrum during their Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland in 1984.

Meanwhile, Macqueen has persuaded the Wallaby captain, John Eales, to sit out the forthcoming domestic interstate series involving the Brumbies, the Queensland Reds and the New South Wales Waratahs. Eales will rest up before leading his country on the short tour of Europe and said yesterday: "The Test against England will be totally different to the one we played in Brisbane in June, when we won 76-0. They've brought back their big names and that will make it hard." Well, harder at least.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?