Mackay's grand gesture rejected as Leeds keep faith with Mayer

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Graham Mackay's offer to turn out for Leeds against Saracens in the Zurich Premiership at Headingley today, only 18 hours after playing for Bradford Bulls against Wigan in the Super League final at Old Trafford, has been rejected by the Tykes' coach Phil Davies. Instead, the Scotland international Jamie Mayer will retain his place at centre as Leeds seek to end a run of three successive defeats.

For Saracens, Khalid Benazzi returns at lock in place of his brother Abdel, who switches to the back row, and the former South African fly-half Jannie de Beer, fit again after a knee injury, has been named among the replacements.

Wasps, the Premiership's bottom club, may have had a miserable start to the season, but at least their first-choice half-backs, Alex King and Martyn Wood, are both fit at last following shoulder problems to face London Irish at Loftus Road this afternoon. The north London side's back-row jinx has struck again, though, with the news that their No 8, Peter Scrivener, may need another knee operation. The in-form Exiles, who have already beaten Harlequins and drawn with Newcastle away from home this season, have named their latest signing, the former Natal Sharks scrum-half Hentie Martens, on the bench while the player-coach Brendan Venter returns at centre.

The England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson takes over the captaincy for Newcastle's game with Bristol at Kingston Park in the absence of Pat Lam, Inga Tuigamala and Gary Armstrong. But the veteran Springbok prop Marius Hurter makes his first appearance of the season after recovering from a shoulder injury. The Bristol coach Dean Ryan, who will face a Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee later this month following a recent post-match outburst, may give a Premiership debut to the former Coventry prop Tim Payne because Paul Johnstone and Julian White are both sidelined with injuries.

Reports in Australia suggest that the dropping of Andrew Walker from the Wallabies' squad who will shortly tour the northern hemisphere is related to an aclohol problem. The Australian newspaper quoted a source as saying that the wing has a low tolerance to alcohol and will undergo counselling in the hope of saving his rugby career. The source added that while Walker rarely drank alcohol, he needed to consume only "one or two" before losing his capacity to make rational decisions. It is believed Walker drank with team-mates at a social golf day and then left the Wallabies' training camp at Coffs Harbour without informing management. His place in the squad has gone to Scott Staniforth of New South Wales.

Meanwhile, Australia's players have been told by their coach, Eddie Jones, that they can withdraw from the seven-match tour of Europe without jeopardising their chances of future selection. Half a dozen senior players, including the vice-captain Daniel Herbert and World Cup winners Matthew Burke and Toutai Kefu, have voiced their concerns about safety issues related to the current international crisis. But Jones has asked the players to make up their minds by today so that he can arrange replacements before the squad flies out next weekend.

England's visit to Rome to face Italy in next year's Six Nations' Championship has been brought forward a day. The game will now take place on Saturday 6 April with the unusual kick-off time of 9pm. The move has been initiated by the Federazione Italiana Rugby for safety reasons to prevent a clash with the crowd at the Serie A football match between Lazio and Lecce. The international is to be broadcast live by the BBC.

The only surprise from yesterday's 16 ties in the third round of the Senior Knockout Cup came in a contest between two National League One teams which saw Wakefield win 22-19 away to fourth-placed Bedford, who are nine spots above them in the table. Melrose remain top of the BT Scotland Premiership despite going down 34-21 at home to Gala. Boroughmuir, who edged a 27-25 thriller against Hawick, stay second on points difference.

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