Rugby Union: Sale put Mather on marketN

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The Independent Online
HIGH AS a kite one week, down in the gutter the next. Barrie-Jon Mather, the Great Britain rugby league international who won his first union cap for England in the Five Nations finale with Wales at Wembley 13 days ago, found himself on the transfer list yesterday when Sale decided he was an expensive luxury rather than an indispensable cornerstone of their talented back division.

"I'm disappointed; I enjoy being at the club," acknowledged the 26-year- old centre. "Still, I'm not the only one going on the list and if it helps Sale straighten things out financially, so be it."

Adrian Hadley, recently appointed director of rugby at Heywood Road following the departure of England assistant coach John Mitchell, was equally philosophical. "This is regrettable. Barrie-Jon is a quality player and has just been capped," said the former Wales wing. "But we can't afford him. There will be others, I'm afraid."

The way things are going in Greater Manchester, Sale will balance their books by the simple expedient of not paying anyone at all. Graham Dawe, the former England hooker, has been relieved of his coaching duties and a depressing mixture of departures and long-term injuries has left the club struggling to name a full roster of 22 for tomorrow's big home match with champions-elect Leicester. Indeed, Mather has been picked out of position on the wing to cover for two incapacitated internationals, David Rees and Steve Hanley. Not surprisingly, Hadley describes the situation as "a nightmare".

Mather will at least find himself in good company when he starts his job-hunting for next season. Scott Benton, the Gloucester scrum-half and fellow one-cap international, is being shown the door at Kingsholm and there has been a cull at Saracens, where 15 front-line players are bearing the "not wanted on voyage" stamp. Richmond, in administration, have also cut back their squad numbers and Wasps are preparing to do the same.

Bath, one of the more solvent Premiership outfits, seem certain to go into next season in settled mood after agreeing new terms with Andy Robinson, their eternally devoted coach. After surviving a serious dose of the mid- season blues and emerging with a dashing young side capable of challenging for honours next term, Robinson has been rewarded with a one-year extension to his contract.

The vibes are every bit as positive in Scotland, where the hangovers have only just cleared following the national side's unexpected but deserved capture of the Five Nations title two weekends ago. In an effort to spread the union gospel in traditional football territory, the Scots are hoping to play a World Cup warm-up match with Romania at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 28 August. They last played there 93 years ago, beating South Africa 6-0.

Meanwhile, Richie Dixon, the former national coach, will head Glasgow Caledonians' management team in next season's European Cup. The co-ordinator for Scotland's Test squad, Dixon replaces Keith Robertson.

Hard-up West Hartlepool's chairman, Andy Hindle, last night dismissed speculation that a deal had already been struck to sell West's existing Premiership One place and leading players to the wealthy Second Division outfit Worcester. However, he admitted that the cash-strapped club were considering "all options" to try and survive among the elite.

"We will wait until the end of the season, and see where we are before any decision is taken," Hindle said. "We are looking at all options."