Saracens and Northampton do battle over Tonga'uiha

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The Independent Online

Soane Tonga'uiha, the South Seas prop who has scrummaged his way to the very top of the Premiership tree this season, signed a new three-year deal with Northampton yesterday. So far, so straightforward. Unfortunately, Saracens have Tonga'uiha's signature on a "heads of agreement" document of their own and intend to hold him to it – a stand that will make next week's match between the two clubs very interesting indeed.

"This situation remains remarkably uncomplicated," said Edward Griffiths, the Sarries chief executive. "Soane and Saracens have signed a legal document and the opening clause reads: 'This document is drawn up to show that terms have been agreed by the club and the player and is legally binding.' I am not sure what part of that is unclear."

Griffiths went on to describe Tonga'uiha's new contract with Northampton as "illegal and irrelevant" adding, more than a little waspishly, that it was signed on April Fool's Day. "The sad reality is that a proud Premiership club has brought our game into disrepute," he continued. "They have shown complete contempt for legality, justice and integrity. We must now decide whether we operate a league where signed agreements mean something and are respected, or whether we have chaos."

Saracens have raised the issue with Premier Rugby, the top-flight clubs' administrative body, and expect it to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. They also expect things to be decided in their favour. "We want the process to be clear and we want Northampton to agree with, and abide by, the finding," Griffiths said. "We're two Premiership clubs, we sit around a table together once a month and we should be able to move forward on a reasonable basis. As far as Soane is concerned, when he turns up at Saracens on 1 July, I'm sure we'll put all this behind us."

In announcing Tonga'uiha's decision to stay at Franklin's Gardens, the Northampton chief executive Allan Robson described Saracens' criticisms as "totally without merit", adding: "Soane had strong personal reasons for his change of heart. Once he had made this known to us and was able to confirm that he had not signed a contract with Saracens, we did not hesitate to offer him a deal."

Sale and Worcester are fighting for something rather more vital than the services of a loose-head: their Premiership status. They meet at Edgeley Park tonight and the losers will find themselves at serious risk of relegation. Sale have restored seven first-choice players to their starting line-up while the visitors will give Greg King a first league start in midfield.