Rugby Union: Saint Douglas arises

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The Independent Online
NORTHAMPTON strengthened their already powerful challenge for the Courage Championship with the acquisition of the former Wales scrum-half, Mark Douglas, from London Welsh yesterday.

Not that this is another of the growing number of examples of poaching or luring that the Rugby Football Union is determined to stamp out. London Welsh emphasised that the initiative for the move came from the player, and not his new club.

Douglas, 34, will solve one of the Saints's few positions of apparent weakness when he becomes available for league matches at the end of October. The RFU's new qualification rules mean that because he is moving upwards by three divisions (London Welsh are in Division Four South) he can play after 30 days. Had the Exiles been one division higher, the period would have been 120 days.

Douglas, who won three caps in 1984 when he was with Llanelli and is back to full fitness and form after a series of injury setbacks, will thus be able to play in the league game at Orrell on 31 October, having missed five games of the 13-match programme.

Barrie Corless, Northampton's director of coaching, was understandably enthusiastic about Douglas's move. 'It's an area we have been looking to strengthen for some time without success. We have several serviceable scrum- halves at the club, but he adds a little bit more all-round.

'He has strength, he's very aggressive, very quick and very experienced and should bring us a little bit more flair around the base of the scrum.'

Douglas will make his Saints' debut in the second team against Gloucester on Saturday and then will have three first-team friendlies before his league baptism.

The club's concern about scrum-half is shown by the move of Matthew Dawson from centre (where he has just been picked for England Under-21s) back to his England schools place at the base of the scrum for tomorrow's league game at London Irish.

Dawson, 19, is pragmatic, but concerned, about the move. 'I don't want to become a jack of all trades who is regarded as a utility back. But at the moment I am not in a position to pick and choose. I have just got to make the most of my opportunities,' he said.

Wasps and Leicester, who are like Bath and Saints, unbeaten in the league, meet at Sudbury and both make changes on the wing. Steve Pilgrim comes in on the right for Wasps where he will face Tony Underwood. Rory has dropped out on the Tigers' rota system.

Transvaal launch at 12-day tour of Britain at Gloucester on 13 November, the day before South Africa play England at Twickenham. They then play at Bridgend on 16 November and Newport a week later.

Winter tours preview, page 32