Saracens and Saints settle Tonga'uiha dispute

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The Independent Online

Northampton and Saracens, the two clubs involved in an amusingly fractious spat over the services of the Pacific Islands prop Soane Tonga'uiha, yesterday reached an "amicable" agreement that allows the player to remain with the Midlanders next season – and, indeed, for the two seasons after that. Given that Tonga'uiha had pledged himself to Saracens, and that the Watford-based club subsequently accused their rivals of showing "complete contempt for justice and integrity", it may not have been as amicable as all that. We will find out when the two clubs meet at Franklin's Gardens a week tomorrow.

Tonga'uiha, said to be concerned that a continued association with Northampton might threaten his chances of playing for Tonga at next year's World Cup in New Zealand, announced his decision to join Saracens earlier this year – a move trumpeted as enthusiastically by player as it was by the club. Then, he changed his mind and signed a three-year extension to his existing deal.

"We must decide whether we operate a league where signed agreements mean something and are respected, or whether we have chaos," said the Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths at the time, adding that he confidently expected to see Tonga'uiha for pre-season training in July. After a meeting with Premier Rugby officials last week and further discussions over the last couple of days, those expectations are strictly past tense.

It was always likely to turn out this way: ultimately, there is not much value to be had from a player if he would rather be playing his rugby elsewhere. Under yesterday's agreement, neither club will comment further on the issue. If Northampton paid Saracens compensation, no one was saying so.

By way of rubbing salt in the wounds of Griffiths and company, the Midlanders named Tonga'uiha as their player of the month. They also confirmed the signing of the powerfully constructed Leeds wing Scott Armstrong, who will move south at the end of the current campaign. Always assuming, of course, that he doesn't change his mind.

Wasps, meanwhile, are looking for a new chief executive after the departure of Paul Harrison, who joined the boards of Wasps and Wycombe Wanderers who share the Adams Park stadium in High Wycombe, only five months ago.

In Wales, the Lions hooker Matthew Rees will miss Scarlets' Magners League meeting with Cardiff Blues tomorrow night after failing to recover from a neck injury. The Llanelli-based side are at serious risk of missing the cut for next season's Heineken Cup.