Northampton, one of British rugby's highest-profile clubs, yesterday launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Ben Foden, one of their highest-profile players, in London in the early hours of Monday morning. The 25-year-old England full-back was one of two men who spent a night in the cells after what police described as "an altercation", thought to involve a taxi driver. Both were bailed until next month – Foden on suspicion of causing criminal damage, the second man on suspicion of theft.
A spokesman for the Midlands team, who are chasing major silverware on both European and domestic fronts, said the matter was being taken "very seriously". He added that club officials were "working with Ben Foden, his representatives, the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby", and that both club and player would "continue to co-operate with all the relevant authorities".
The RFU took its usual cautious line, stating that at this early stage, the incident was a matter for Foden and his principal employers at Franklin's Gardens. However, senior Twickenham figures privately expressed their alarm at news of the arrest, and will press the governing body to take a strong stand against the player should he be convicted of any offence.
Foden has been England's first-choice No 15 all season and has made a significant contribution to the improvement in the national team's attacking game. Indeed, he scored the try that beat France at Twickenham last month, thereby laying the foundations for a first Six Nations title since 2003. But there are some at Twickenham, angered by the many and various disciplinary scandals of recent years and thoroughly fed up with what they consider to be a persistent undermining of the union's "core values" campaign, who would demand his omission from the team, should any criminal case against him be proved.
Martin Johnson, the England manager, could certainly have done without this palaver. Foden's most obvious challenger for the full-back berth at the forthcoming World Cup, Delon Armitage of London Irish, has only just returned to action after being banned for abusing a doping control officer on New Year's Day.
Meanwhile, the Bath head coach Steve Meehan will leave the Recreation Ground at the end of the season after a five-year stay in the West Country. The Australian's position with the former European champions has been uncertain for some months, largely because of the owner Bruce Craig's decision to appoint Sir Ian McGeechan as performance director and encourage him to play an ever more influential role in team affairs.
Meehan, whose working relationship with McGeechan is said by club insiders to be distinctly chilly, has been linked with a move to France. He joined Bath from the Parisian club Stade Français, and with his countryman Michael Cheika currently in charge there, he may be tempted by a second tour of duty in the French capital.
Exeter, who have no such internal problems, have confirmed the signing of the Wales tight-head prop Craig Mitchell from Ospreys.