Toulouse may have stumbled into a Heineken Cup elephant trap at Wasps last weekend, but the French are not losing too many arguments with the English right now. The European quarter-finals are loaded 9-4 in the favour of the Top 14 clubs across the water; Jonny Wilkinson considers a two-year contract extension with Toulon to be more important than a continuation of his Test career beyond this year's World Cup; and when it comes to financial regulation, the playing budgets over there are at least three times as generous as they are over here.
It was with some relief, then, that Leicester made one of their key announcements of the season yesterday. Martin Castrogiovanni, the Argentine-born Italian prop, will stay at Welford Road for the foreseeable future, having rejected a number of tempting offers from the far side of the Channel. The English champions could not have sounded more pleased with this piece of business if they'd tried.
"He's a world-class player and we're delighted he's decided to stay here," said Richard Cockerill, the Tigers' director of rugby. "He has moved to the top levels of the game during his time with us and our environment certainly suits him. He is happy in Leicester and he's very popular with the supporters, as well as with his team-mates. Everyone knows he had opportunities to go elsewhere, but he's shown his commitment to us and we're looking forward to his continued contribution."
Quite whether Dan Cole, current first choice for England in the tight head position, is looking forward to it as much as Cockerill is a moot point. Cole, six years younger than Castrogiovanni at 23, is every bit as ambitious as his considerable talent permits him to be and may just be growing a little frustrated at starting big games on the bench. But as Cockerill noted earlier this month, the changing of the guard is a gradual process. "I have two world-class tight heads and both play quite enough rugby," he remarked. "Anyway, Dan will overtake him at some point."
Castrogiovanni's decision follows hard on the heels of a similar call made by his fellow front-rower Andrew Sheridan, who re-signed with Sale after weeks of speculation linking him with a big-money move to Toulon. "A player has to think about a lot of things when he is trying to decide on the future, and money is not everything," said the Leicester man by way of explanation. "I enjoy it here at Leicester and it was always in my mind that I wanted to stay."
Leicester's nearest neighbours and fellow Heineken Cup knock-out qualifiers Northampton confirmed yesterday that their European quarter-final against Ulster in April will be played in Milton Keynes. The Saints may own one of the most atmospheric rugby grounds in the country, but only 13, 591 spectators can sardine themselves into Franklin's Gardens – around 1,500 too few for the liking of the tournament administrators, who have introduced minimum capacity rules this season.
It gave Allan Robson, the Northampton chief executive, a chance to take a swipe at the Liberal Democrats who control the local borough council, with whom the club have been in dispute over expansion plans at Franklin's Gardens. "Their attitude has now had a direct negative impact on the town, and upwards of £1.5m will now go to the Milton Keynes economy rather than Northampton's," he said.
On the Six Nations front, one of the fringe players in the Wales squad, the uncapped Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Toby Faletau, is out of the tournament through injury. Faletau, who damaged ankle ligaments during his side's Heineken Cup defeat by Glasgow at the weekend, is replaced by the Scarlets forward Rob McCusker, who featured on the Red Dragons' tour of New Zealand last summer.
The Scots, meanwhile, confirmed Alastair Kellock would lead them through the Six Nations. The Glasgow lock, one of the star turns in last season's tournament, performed the captaincy role in Argentina last summer, where the tourists won the Test series 2-0, before missing the autumn internationals with knee trouble.Reuse content