Mikaele Pesamino, the spectacularly successful seven-a-side specialist from Samoa, is widely considered to be among the quickest players in world rugby. Unfortunately for Sale, his new employers, the Pacific islander's move to the north-west of England has been slow to the point of tortoise-like. A day before the start of a new Aviva Premiership season that is pivotal to the club's future as a serious force in the domestic game, there is still no sign of the man, although if he is as fast as people say, he may possibly have been and gone without anyone noticing.
Mike Brewer, who is about to embark on his first campaign as the head coach at Edgeley Park, is more than a little baffled – hardly an ideal state of mind, given the proximity of tomorrow night's opener against Newcastle. "Mikaele's agent is Freddie Tuilagi, who's a difficult chap to get hold of," Brewer said, referring to the former Samoan Test forward who played a good deal of club rugby in these islands with Leicester and Cardiff Blues. "But I spoke to him this week and at this stage, a visa has not been granted for Mikaele. We're trying to find out from the Home Office whether it's an administration error or whether it's something we didn't know about when applying. From previous history and precedent there is no reason why it shouldn't be granted because Mikaele has played international rugby for Samoa within the last 18 months."
Brewer's perplexity deepened when another Samoan, the full-back Paul Williams, turned up as expected with a visa in his back pocket. "I want Mikaele here yesterday," the coach told the Manchester Evening News. "He's very much part of my plans – he always has been and will continue to be. He would add another dimension with his out-and-out pace, though I'm not saying he'd walk straight into the starting team because he has a lot to learn in the 15-a-side game. It would be nice to have him here, though."
According to sources in Samoa, the wing has so much to learn that he actually thought he was joining a rugby league side when he agreed terms with Sale earlier in the summer. There are also suggestions from back home that he has abandoned his plans to head north and recommitted himself to the seven-a-side format ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
Brewer, however, does not believe his new signing is having second thoughts. "He said he had done his time playing sevens," he reported, adding that if Pesamino failed to show, there would be no rush to identify a replacement. The coach has been impressed by two young wings in Tom Brady and Rhys Crane and has two veterans of World Cup finals, Mark Cueto and Ben Cohen, on his roster, as well as the versatile Mathew Tait.
Leicester, who face a stiff opening game of the local derby variety at Northampton on Sunday, will be without their international No 8 Jordan Crane for two months. Crane has had surgery on an ankle injury and is not expected to regain fitness in time to feature in the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup next month.
Initially, the player himself thought he would spend around 12 weeks on the sidelines – information he committed to Twitter, much to the chagrin of his director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. "If he does that again, I'll break both his ankles," Cockerill remarked, only half-jokingly. Yesterday, the former England hooker had calmed down a little. "Jordan needed some ligament damage to be cleaned up," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a bit worse than we feared."
Cockerill's injury list is not growing any shorter. Another England forward, the lock Louis Deacon, is unlikely to be able to make the journey to Franklin's Gardens because of persistent problems with his back, and with Geoff Parling and Richard Blaze also among the early-season casualties, and the new signing Steve Mafi not long arrived from Australia, the champions are very much up against it on the engine room front.
Exeter, meanwhile, expect to break new ground at the newly expanded Sandy Park stadium by attracting a capacity crowd of almost 11,000 for their Premiership debut outing against Gloucester on Saturday.