RUGBY UNION: Sale are ready to swoop for Sims

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THE GREAT under-achievers of Sale may look so similar to the great under-achievers of Gloucester next season that the passionately belligerent inhabitants of the Kingsholm Shed will be tempted to watch 50 per cent of their rugby at Heywood Road. Two of England's recent cherry and white internationals, Dave Sims and Scott Benton, were linked yesterday with possible moves to Cheshire and if Sims, in particular, decides to head north, Gloucester folk heroes will be even thinner on the ground than Gloucester away victories.

Benton, the Yorkshire-born scrum-half who had the misfortune to make his Test debut in Brisbane last summer, at least knows what it is to live north of Tewkesbury; for Sims, a born-and-bred Cotswolder who remains the single most popular figure at Kingsholm, a career shift to Sale would be like a one-way journey to the end of the earth. "Gloucester without Dave is going to be a strange old place, but the game has moved on and we will adjust," said John Fidler, the team manager, who confirmed that his second-row successor had been transfer-listed. "It's a difficult day, a sad day, but we have never made any bones about our need to rebuild the squad."

At 29 Sims is no spring chicken, but the honesty and integrity of his performance on England's 1998 tour of the southern hemisphere suggested he would make the most of his Gloucester dotage, both as a lock and a skipper. Sadly, he hit the ground walking rather than running at the start of the season and found himself third choice of three behind Rob Fidler, the team manager's son, and Mark Cornwell, a natural middle jumper. Philippe Saint-Andre, the former captain of France who now coaches the Kingsholm first team, was brutally frank as he explained Sims' transfer-listing yesterday.

"Of 46 rucks, mauls and other situations in our game against Sale last weekend, Dave was involved in only 10 of them," he said. "It was not acceptable. I told him that, as captain, he should be the nasty player, the boss on the pitch, the father of the forwards. For six or seven games, I did not see this from him." For all that, Saint-Andre indicated that Sims had himself asked to be listed. However, the player's agent, Alastair Saverimutto, said it was a Gloucester decision. "Dave was told he was on the list," he said. "He's very shocked that after 12 or 13 years at Gloucester, he is no longer wanted there."

Benton is thought to have agreed in principle to the move, probably in exchange for Chris Yates, the Sale centre. The northerners have listed their own first-choice No 9, Kevin Ellis, along with two Five Nations internationals, the England centre Barrie-Jon Mather and the Irish loose forward Dion O'Cuinneagain.

Another struggling northern side, West Hartlepool, yesterday activated their long-standing threat to put all their professional players on a month's notice. "We can't go on as we are, so redundancy notices have been issued," said the club chairman, Andy Hindle, who watched his team slide out of the Premiership last weekend by losing 39-0 to Bedford. "We will fulfil our last two league games and we want to go out in a dignified fashion; we are up to date in our payments to players and staff. But the squad will be broken up. We just can't afford to keep professional players in the second division."

Hindle and his fellow board members are seeking a Company Voluntary Arrangement to pay off debts believed to total around the pounds 200,000 mark. Relegation will cost the club around pounds 500,000 in financial incentives and that shortfall means they will be unable to keep their outstanding coach, Mike Brewer, and their leading players, Steve Vile and Duane Monkley.