Poor old Harlequins are not enjoying the kind of season where everything goes right, even in the course of a single working day.
Poor old Harlequins are not enjoying the kind of season where everything goes right, even in the course of a single working day. The Londoners, bottom of the Premiership by a clear five points and suffering the kind of anguish once associated with the victims of Torquemada, have managed to secure the services of Geo Cronje, the controversial Springbok lock while, almost in the same breath, losing the highly-rated young Wallaby scrum-half Matt Henjak, who has been recalled to Australia as an emergency measure.
Quins announced the signing of Cronje, the bearded Boer who found himself implicated in a racism scandal during the South Africans' preparations for last year's World Cup, on Monday. The news was immediately greeted with derision in Pretoria, where officials of the Blue Bulls, with whom Cronje rose to prominence, claimed he was contracted until the end of the 2005 southern hemisphere campaign.
Perhaps for the first time this season, Quins dug in their heels and fought back. Cronje will indeed be playing for them in the near future - he is scheduled to fly to England next week - and should leave a hefty imprint on Premiership rugby, especially as he will soon be joined by the excellent All Black second-rower Simon Maling, who has been lured away from Otago.
However, the departure of Henjak is a severe setback. The Wallabies, who will soon embark on a four-Test European tour, have lost the experienced New South Wales scrum-half Chris Whitaker to a torn groin muscle, and may yet have to travel without their captain, George Gregan, whose four-year-old son Max has been diagnosed as suffering from epilepsy. Gregan missed a four-day training camp in Queensland to be with his family.
Henjak has been named in a reshaped 28-man tour party and is therefore likely to add to his two international caps before the end of November. "It would be an understatement to say we're sorry to see him go," admitted Mark Evans, the Quins coach, yesterday. "He played two games for us, against Gloucester and Leicester - games in which we fronted up pretty well. Matt is an exceptional talent, and he was loving it in the Premiership. That's life. At least we have Cronje and Maling coming here. I was looking for a big ball-carrier and an international-class line-out forward. To find both in quick succession is definitely a bonus."
Bonuses are not the order of the day for London Irish. Already hampered by an injury list of calamitous proportions - Darren Edwards, Adrian Flavin, Paul Sackey and the Samoan international flanker Peter Poulos are all in the long-term category - they have now lost another international loose forward, the influential Kieron Dawson, for a minimum of three months. Dawson picked up a knee injury in the early stages of last Saturday's home defeat by Leeds, and a scan has revealed medial ligament problems, with added damage to his left hamstring.
The Scottish Rugby Union has implemented significant changes to its management structure. Keith Grainger, the chief executive of the Celtic League and Celtic Cup competitions, will move to Murrayfield as commercial and marketing director, while Ian McGeechan, the former national coach who succeeded Jim Telfer as director of rugby after the last World Cup, has been handed greater responsibility across the professional sector.
The chief executives of the country's three élite teams - Jim McKenzie, of Edinburgh, David Jordan, of Glasgow, and Alastair Cranston, of The Borders - have lost their jobs as a result of the reorganisation.Reuse content