Bristol sign Contepomi as Salter is cited

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The Independent Online

Good news days have become something of a rarity down Bristol way, so the fact that yesterday's developments at the Memorial Ground were not all bad came as a blessed relief to Dean Ryan's chastened band of Premiershipunderachievers. Felipe Contepomi, the international outside-half from Argentina, was preparing to commit himself to the struggling West Country club after some heavy lobbying from his Test-playing compatriots, Agustin Pichot andEduardo Simone. If, as expected, the deal goes through over the next 24 hours, one of Ryan's more pressing personnel problems will have eased considerably.

Good news days have become something of a rarity down Bristol way, so the fact that yesterday's developments at the Memorial Ground were not all bad came as a blessed relief to Dean Ryan's chastened band of Premiershipunderachievers. Felipe Contepomi, the international outside-half from Argentina, was preparing to commit himself to the struggling West Country club after some heavy lobbying from his Test-playing compatriots, Agustin Pichot andEduardo Simone. If, as expected, the deal goes through over the next 24 hours, one of Ryan's more pressing personnel problems will have eased considerably.

The fact that Matt Salter, the highly promising Bristol flanker, was cited by London Irish for allegedly perpetrating some unspecified skulduggery during the fixture between the two clubs nine days ago, took some of the shine off things. But after a month of unmitigated misery, Ryan and company were more interested in securing a positive than fretting over a negative.

Contepomi, whose overseas status will change if his mother is successful in documenting the family's Italian ancestry, played alongside Pichot when the Pumas took Australia to the wire in Sydney during the summer, and his performance in that match persuaded Ryan to set off in pursuit of his signature. The fact that Bristol University, one of England's great union nurseries, have offered Contepomi the chance to continue his medical studies on a rugby-friendly basis appears to have tipped the balance.

"My intention is to become a doctor," said the 23-year-old player yesterday, "and the club have said that they will be flexible in their training demands. Hopefully, the university will allow me to spread my academic programme over the coming year. I want to play in the Premiership because it is one of the best club championships. When Agustin first spoke to me about joining Bristol, I was very excited about being part of a good team with a great history." Well, Contepomi was 50 per-cent correct. Bristol do indeed have a great history.

On the Salter front, no one was either willing or able to disclose the precise details of the accusation made against him: London Irish pronounced the case sub judice, Bristol felt the citing should not have been made public in the first place, and the Rugby Football Union described the alleged incident as... well, an "incident".

On the charge sheet, Salter is said to have been guilty of "foul play", but that could cover a whole multitude of sins, from shirt-tugging to attempted murder. All we know is that none of the match officials saw the dirty deed, and that Salter's hearing will take place on 4 October at an unconfirmed venue. Such is the air of paranoia circulating among rugby's disciplinarians.

Meanwhile, the movers and shakers from the Premiership club movement were "engaged in dialogue" with Rugby Football Union representatives before last night's meeting of English First Division Rugby, the umbrella organisation acting on behalf of the 12 teams in the top flight. The failure of the Premiership clubs to reach agreement with the Second Division teams over promotion and relegation has provoked the latest in a long line of political stand-offs, resulting in the union's refusal to release hundreds of thousands of pounds promised to the big guns last season. Tomorrow, the talks will continue with some added input from English Second Division Rugby.

On the fitness front, Ben Clarke believes he will recover from wounds over and under his left eye in good time to lead Bath at Northampton on Saturday.

The former England loose forward required 11 stitches after finding himself involved in the punch-up that interrupted last weekend's Bath-Newcastle game.

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