Cape Town seemed a good idea at the time, but ever since Saracens took the imaginative decision to stage a Heineken Cup game with Biarritz there early next year, there has been a fearful row between rival sporting concerns in the South African city – a row that has finally persuaded the Premiership club to abandon the project as a bad job. The fixture will now be played in the less glamorous surroundings of downtown Watford. Oh well.
Earlier this week, the powerful Western Province union announced that instead of the match being played at the City of Cape Town Stadium – a modern venue constructed for the 2010 football World Cup – as had originally been intended, it would instead go ahead at the age-old Newlands ground, one of the spiritual centres of South African rugby. This caused considerable controversy locally, leading Saracens to withdraw. "We have no wish to be a catalyst for conflict," a spokesman said last night. "We look forward to playing a competitive match in Cape Town as soon as local circumstances allow."
Not only have Saracens lost an opportunity to play in the southern hemisphere, they have also lost their Springbok hooker Schalk Brits to suspension. Brits was cited for a dangerous tackle on the Treviso wing Benjamin de Jager during last week's European match at Vicarage Road, even though he was sent to the sin-bin at the time. Yesterday, he was banned for three weeks, a decision that rules him out of tomorrow's visit to Biarritz and Premiership matches against Exeter and London Irish.
Talking of London Irish, the Exiles' awkward Heineken Cup trip to Cardiff Blues tonight has taken on a must-win air following their surprise home loss to Edinburgh last weekend. It is possible to suffer two pool defeats and still qualify for the knock-out stage of the tournament – both Biarritz and Toulon did so last season – but it is a desperately hard way of going about it. "There will be a reaction from them," said the Blues forward coach, Justin Burnell. "They know they have to come here and win because you don't want to be trailing by two games in a competition like this."
Irish last night lost their international centre Shontayne Hape to suspension. Hape was banned for a month for hitting the Edinburgh flanker David Denton with an illegal tackle during last week's game at the Madejski Stadium.