Rugby Union: Weakened Sale ready to rebuff the champions elect
Hence the heightened interest in this afternoon's 15-rounder at Heywood Road, where the Tigers have a chance of wrapping up the Allied Dunbar Premiership title three weeks early. "Relationships haven't been brilliant between ourselves and Leicester," admitted Sale's director of rugby, Adrian Hadley, yesterday. "The 1997 league match up here was an acrimonious affair - there was trouble on the pitch and the referee had a rough time off it after awarding them a late penalty try that took them into Europe at our expense. Things have moved on, though. It will be a decent game this time, hopefully."
So keen was Hadley to exercise some water-under-the-bridge diplomacy that he went on to praise Leicester as "worthy champions", ignoring the fact that a Northampton victory at Bedford today would allow Tim Rodber's side to contest the issue for another week at least. "You have to admire their strong squad and consistency of performance," he said. "Leicester away is the toughest game of the season and Leicester at home is the second toughest."
They tend to be particularly tough when your own side is in tatters. Sale have endured a horrible few weeks, bidding a fractious farewell to their coach, John Mitchell, and seeing a number of leading players, including their international wings David Rees and Steve Hanley, pick up season- threatening injuries. Their financial situation is so desperate that they have placed their most recent England cap, Barrie-Jon Mather, on the transfer list. What price a Sale victory under those unpropitious circumstances?
"We aren't frightened of them," insisted Hadley, "even though our own season has been pretty disappointing: brilliant one week, rubbish the next." Brave words indeed but,just to make matters worse for the underdogs, their experienced scrum-half, Kevin Ellis, is a doubtful starter. Leicester, on the other hand, give their own first-choice half-back, Austin Healey, a first Premiership start since February.
Down in mid-table, where a fistful of European contenders are locked in mortal combat, eighth-placed Newcastle will fancy their chances of closing in on a top-six position by beating the travel-sick whipping boys of Gloucester at Kingston Park. Va'aiga Tuigamala and Peter Walton are likely absentees from the Falcons' line-up, while Gloucester go in without their injured Samoan centre, Terry Fanolua, who is replaced by the Premiership debutant Mike Davies. Their midfield problems may be eased next week, however; Cliff Mytton, a 30-year-old Aucklander whose performances for Stade Francais have earned him all sorts of accolades on the far side of the Channel, is being linked with a move to Kingsholm.
By coincidence, Mytton's former colleagues back home in New Zealand have forged an English link of their own. The Auckland Blues, the most successful Super 12 outfit in the history of the southern hemisphere competition, intend to foster a close working relationship with Worcester, the ambitious Premiership Two club coached by Les Cusworth. In addition, the All Blacks intend to use Worcester's state-of-the-art training facilities during this autumn's World Cup.
Meanwhile, the International Rugby Board admitted five new national unions - Cameroon, Colombia, India, Peru and the Pacific island of Niue - to the rugby fraternity during their annual meeting in Buenos Aires. More significantly, they sounded the death knell for old-style rugby elitism by guaranteeing a number of less-fashionable unions regular Test activity against the traditional powers of the 15-man game. Argentina, Canada, Fiji, Italy, Japan, Romania, Tonga, the United States and Western Samoa will all benefit from a new fixture schedule drawn up by Bernard Lapasset, the French chairman of the IRB tours committee.
In addition, board members agreed to ban pain-killing injections both directly before and during matches. Vernon Pugh, the IRB chairman, will head a new anti-doping committee, to be put in place before the World Cup kicks off.
Latest in Sport
Mario Balotelli scored as many goals for AC Milan on second debut as he did for Liverpool in the Premier League last season
Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea top the list of the Premier League's most expensive squads
Cyprus vs Wales match report: Gareth Bale's bullet header has Welsh on brink of Euro 2016
Jose Mourinho: Chelsea manager has four Guinness World records hanging in his office
Sir Alex Ferguson: 'I place discipline above all else and it might have cost us several titles...' but Manchester United boss wouldn't change it
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
£7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...
£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...
£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It's an exciting time for this ...
£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...