Sale, up to their eyeballs in transfer negotiations since Steve Diamond returned to the club as executive director of sport in January, are closing in on the All Black centre Sam Tuitupou and hope to tie him up on a two-year deal over the next few days. Tuitupou is currently playing for the Irish province Munster, having left relegated Worcester at the end of last season, but is believed to be keen on a second stint in the Premiership.
Diamond has already secured the services of Richie Vernon, the Scotland back-row forward, and lured the highly regarded Kearnan Myall across the Pennines from Leeds. The Irish prop Tony Buckley, the Northampton loose forward Mark Easter and the Wasps hooker Joe Ward are also heading for Edgeley Park. But Tuitupou, so strong in contact that he goes by the nickname "Hacksaw Sam" down Limerick way, is in a different league and has the potential to transform Sale's act outside the scrum.
Five members of the Scotland pack – the captain Alastair Kellock, his second-row partner Richie Gray, the front-rowers Allen Jacobsen and Ross Ford, and the scavenging breakaway John Barclay – are beginning their preparations for the forthcoming World Cup as of now, having been withdrawn from club rugby for the rest of the season. Andy Robinson, the national coach, confirmed the decision yesterday after discussions with the country's two professional teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Robinson is in no position to wrap his other senior forwards in cotton wool, for he has no influence over their employers. The Newcastle prop Euan Murray, the Leinster lock Nathan Hines and the Saracens No 8 Kelly Brown are likely to remain active – and therefore at risk of injury – until the end of next month at the earliest.
England will spend three-quarters of the World Cup pool stage in Dunedin, having seen their matches against Argentina and Georgia moved from Christchurch following last month's earthquake. Their last group game, against the Scots, is still scheduled for Auckland, and if they find their way into the knockout stage, they will stay in the North Island for the duration.
Ulster's hopes of beating Northampton in the Heineken Cup quarter-final a week on Sunday were dented yesterday when Stephen Ferris was ruled out. The flanker requires surgery to repair the knee damage that sidelined him for the entire Six Nations Championship.