Cueto is cited for gouging to give Johnson problem for World Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One way or another, England's outside backs are giving the red-rose manager Martin Johnson plenty to ponder ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand, now a mere five months away. Less than a week after the Northampton full-back Ben Foden accepted a police caution following his arrest on suspicion of causing criminal damage – a welcome development from Johnson's perspective, given that it drew a line under the incident – one of the more experienced members of the national team, the Sale wing Mark Cueto, finds himself on a gouging rap.

Cueto has been cited for "making contact with the eye or eye area" of the lock Christian Day during his club's heavy Premiership defeat at Northampton last weekend. Film footage shows the Sale captain fighting with his opponent on the floor before climbing to his feet, preparing to throw a punch, thinking better of it and pushing Day in the face. Unfortunately for the accused, that push was delivered with fingers bent inwards like a claw, rather than with a flat hand.

The matter will be heard by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel in Liverpool on Monday. Should Cueto be found guilty of a deliberate gouge, a substantial suspension, lasting months rather than weeks, would be inevitable. At the very least, he would miss England's three World Cup warm-up matches scheduled for August. If, however, the tribunal considers his action to have been careless rather than intentional, the size of the book thrown at him is unlikely to be larger than the average pocket diary.

There was a good deal of transfer activity yesterday. Newcastle announced the signing of the Samoa Test centre Jamie Helleur from Auckland, while London Irish moved for the lock James Sandford, currently playing second-tier rugby at Rotherham. The Exiles also lost a player, with the prop Dan Murphy putting pen to paper at Gloucester.

Perhaps the most significant move concerned a player yet to appear at Premiership level: Mako Vunipola, the England age-group prop – who helped the Under-20s to a Grand Slam last month – has joined Saracens from Bristol.

"Mako is already rated one of the outstanding players of his generation," said Mark McCall, director of rugby at the Watford-based club. "He has been actively pursued by many Premiership clubs, so we're delighted he's chosen us."