Rugby Union: RFU in conflict with Sale

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It seems Twickenham only has to clear the decks of one set of problems before another wave of vitriol breaks over the bows. After making some positive, if cautious, moves towards peace with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, they have now fallen foul of Sale.

John Mitchell, their director of rugby, was due to make his long-awaited debut today in the Sale back row at Northampton, until the Department of Education and Employment stepped in and pronounced that the 32-year- old New Zealander's work permit only allows him to coach the club, not play for it. The Rugby Football Union's stance in the matter is that Mitchell is not entitled to play until he receives a full work permit.

The Sale chief executive, Howard Thomas, said yesterday: "John Mitchell has a work permit for his position as professional coach of Sale FC. In the event that he plays for Sale, the club is satisfied of the legal entitlement for him to do so."

However, Mitchell will not play today. "We do not want to prejuduce the situation for the future," Thomas said.

More bad news for Sale was that John Devereux underwent an ankle operation yesterday which will keep him out of action for three weeks, while a hernia operation will rule out Darren Wright for six weeks. Northampton, on the other hand, beef up their front row with prop Martin Hynes, who plays his first League match of the season after completing a six-week ban, which the Saints vice-captain picked up after being sent off for receiving two yellow cards in a Second Division match last season.

The London Irish captain, Garry Halpin, underwent an operation on an elbow in midweek and misses the clash at home to Bath, who give Henry Paul a run-out in the second XV at full-back in an effort to convert him to that position as an alternative to England's Jon Callard.

The conversion of Will Carling continues. The former England captain retains the stand-off berth for League leaders Harlequins in the home match against bottom club Orrell. Quins' two Rugby League converts, Robbie Paul and Gary Connolly, are paired at centre.

Leicester, away to West Hartlepool, are still without their captain Dean Richards (knee) while the England lock Martin Johnson is also doubtful after suffering a neck injury in scrummaging practice.

Gloucester have dropped the flanker Ian Smith for tomorrow's match at home to Wasps. He is replaced by Nathan Carter, a local league recruit.