Newcastle in scramble for Caucaunibuca signature

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The Independent Online

Rupeni Caucaunibuca, unpronounceable and unstoppable in equal measure, may have played his last game in the Super 12, the southern hemisphere's regional championship.

Rupeni Caucaunibuca, unpronounceable and unstoppable in equal measure, may have played his last game in the Super 12, the southern hemisphere's regional championship.

The prolific winger from Fiji, whose solo tries against France and Scotland during the World Cup stretched credulity almost as far as the defences concerned, is a top-priority target for a number of European clubs, and his current team, the Auckland Blues, accepted yesterday that their chances of retaining his services were growing slimmer by the minute.

Caucau, as he is generally known for understandable reasons, will miss the rest of this season's Super 12 with a serious shoulder injury; indeed, he is not expected to resume active duty until September. By that time, he may have surfaced in either the English Premiership or the French Championship. Newcastle are hot on his heels - Rob Andrew, their director of rugby, and a certain Jonny Wilkinson travelled to New Zealand recently in an effort to lure him to the North-east - but they are far from alone. Several élite clubs from the far side of the Channel are also interested.

"We are not resigned to losing Rupeni, but I can't say I'm confident of keeping him," David White, the Blues' chief executive, admitted. "I think it's 50-50, to be honest. We think he adds tremendous value to the Super 12 and we need him in our game, but for Rupeni to stay in New Zealand, two things must happen: the New Zealand Rugby Football Union will have to agree a significant improvement in his contract, and Rupeni's lawyer will have to arrange some independent finance for him through commercial opportunities in this country."

Because Caucau is not eligible to play for the All Blacks - his hopes of switching Test allegiance did not pass muster with the International Rugby Board - he earns considerably less than many in Super 12. At the most conservative of estimates, he would quadruple his salary by moving to the northern hemisphere - no mean consideration for an ambitious 23-year-old from an impoverished corner of Fiji.

Another prolific try-scoring wing, Paul Sackey of London Irish, can look ahead to a more certain future after signing an extension to his deal at the Madejski Stadium. The one talent capable of raising the Exiles' back division above the humdrum was not out of contract for another year, but the club moved quickly to tie him down until the end of 2005-06, by which time the 24-year-old former Bedford player will know if he has any prospect of an international career.

Wasps have confirmed their intention to play at the Causeway Stadium in High Wycombe for another season. The Londoners moved down the M4 when their groundshare at Loftus Road, the home of Queen's Park Rangers in Shepherd's Bush, came to an end in 2002 when Fulham needed a temporary base in the capital to tide them over during the redevelopment of Craven Cottage. The assumption was that Wasps would return this summer, but there is now a possibility of a long sojourn in the wilds of Buckinghamshire.

Tom Philip, the most impressive of Scotland's backs throughout the Six Nations' Championship, has ended the tournament on a low note by being cited for an alleged high tackle on the Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll, in Dublin last weekend. The Edinburgh centre, who has a big Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse ahead of him on Saturday week, is scheduled to face a disciplinary tribunal today.

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