Farrell under wraps until festive fixture

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The Independent Online

Hopes that Andy Farrell would finally be fit to make his long overdue debut in rugby union for Saracens this weekend against Ulster were dashed yesterday.

Farrell, 30, the former Great Britain rugby league captain, who has been sidelined with a toe injury since before the start of the season, is now suffering with a back problem.

The Watford-based club now reckon that the earliest chance of getting Farrell, who switched codes from Wigan in a joint £1m deal between Saracens and the RFU in March, on to a union pitch will be on 27 December when Saracens take on London Irish in a Premiership fixture at Vicarage Road.

Ordinarily, Cardiff would not have expected to sell out all 10,500 seats at the Arms Park for the visit of Italian side Calvisano, but Jonah Lomu's home debut for the Blues in this Saturday's Heineken Cup match has forced the club to increase the capacity to 12,200.

It is doubtful whether Worcester's new Kiwi Mike Maguire will have quite the same effect as Lomu on Sixways' gates. The Warriors snapped up the Otago NPC centre/wing as a replacement for Ben Hinshelwood who has been forced into retirement. Maguire, 23, who is qualified to play for Ireland, is expected to join Worcester before Christmas and his initial contract keeps him in the Midlands until the end of the season.

Northampton's former All Black fly-half Carlos Spencer had already been ruled out of the European Challenge Cup match against Narbonne in France tonight. Now Saints have been plunged into a far more serious injury crisis.

Joining Spencer in the treatment room are Scotland wing Sean Lamont with an ankle strain picked up last week, and centre Rhodri Davies who has a groin injury. Thankfully, Saints have David Quinlan fit following a knee injury, so he takes over from Davies, with John Rudd coming in for Lamont and Luke Myring for Spencer.

Prop Tom Smith has been reinstated to the Northampton starting line-up, while the lack of backs means five forwards will sit on the replacements' bench.

Newcastle welcome back Mathew Tait following England Sevens duty in Dubai, for Sunday's Challenge Cup match at home to L'Aquila. Tait is one of three changes, the others being Andy Long at hooker for Matt Thompson and prop Robbie Morris for Tino Paoletti.

Lock Chris Murphy captains Leeds against Perpignan tomorrow, David Doherty starts at full-back, while the Scottish internationals Gavin Kerr and Gordon Bulloch return to the front row. Tom Palmer joins Murphy in the second row.