Rugby Union: Steele takes helm at Northampton

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The Independent Online
JOHN STEELE took over as the Northampton director of rugby last night and vowed to make the Saints "the best in Europe". Steele, who played more than 150 games for Saints at fly-half before joining London Scottish as player-coach in 1994, succeeds Ian McGeechan.

The 34-year-old former Army officer, who is Saints' third top points scorer with 1,385, was director of rugby at London Scottish last season. He is expected to sign a three-year deal and said: "I've got some unfinished business here at Northampton. During my time as a player we were runners- up in the league and cup but didn't win anything and I want to put things right. I'm taking this club to where it deserves to be. I'll make it the best in Europe. I've made no secret that I am passionate about this club. I've always wanted to come back here. It has come a little bit earlier than I expected."

The Natal Sharks coach, Ian McIntosh, was another candidate for the job but the Northampton owner, Keith Barwell, who announced a pounds 1.7m loss at last night's AGM, said: "It would have been a soft option to have gone for a big name but I'm totally convinced we've got the right man for this job."

McGeechan left Franklin Gardens last month to join the Scotland coaching team and is due to succeed Jim Telfer as his country's head coach after the World Cup.

An offer from Cardiff to clinch the signing of Shane Howarth has been described as "totally unacceptable" by Sale, the Welsh international full-back's club. Cardiff have also been called on to deal directly with Sale over the former All Black's future, rather than through an agent.

The only communication so far has been via his New Zealand-based agent, Roger Mortimer, and Sale's chief executive, Graham Walker, said: "The offer that has been suggested to us through Shane's agent is totally unacceptable. It is a long way apart from our valuation of Shane."

Howarth is understood to have been spared the 35 per cent wage cuts experienced by most of Sale's squad during the summer. At least 11 players have departed in recent weeks, including the Ireland captain, Dion O'Cuinneagain, and the Welsh international John Devereux, with none incoming amid speculation of a takeover by Worcester.

The Gala coach, Jim Hay, is ready to inflict a painful opening day defeat on the man he replaced at Netherdale. The fixture calendar sends Gala to their Borders rivals, Melrose, on 4 September. It pits the Melrose coach, Gary Parker, against the side he took to the Division One and Velvet Cup double last term before he departed for Greenyards in the summer. Hay moved from Third Division Preston Lodge to replace Parker.

SRU PREMIERSHIP Opening day fixtures (Sat 4 Sept): Hawick v Watsonians, Heriot's FP v Currie, Jed-Forest v Glasgow Hawks, Melrose v Gala, West of Scotland v Kelso.