Super 14 expansion plans hit the buffers

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Plans to expand the southern hemisphere's Super 14 provincial tournament ahead of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand suffered an embarrassing derailment yesterday when the backers of Australia's new Melbourne-based franchise pulled out of negotiations with the country's governing body. The breakdown in talks could affect Michael Cheika, one of the outstanding coaches in the British Isles, who had been expected to head the recently established operation.

Cheika, an Australian who cut his rugby teeth in Sydney, has been working with the Dublin-based Leinster side for the last five years and guided them to a first Heineken Cup title last spring. He informed his Irish employers some time ago he would not be renewing his contract, and acting on that knowledge, they yesterday announced that another Antipodean, the New Zealander Josef Schmidt, would run the show from the start of next season. Schmidt, assistant coach at the crack French club Clermont Auvergne, has agreed a three-year-deal.

It is unclear whether Cheika's much talked about move home will happen now that the Melbourne financiers have fallen out with the Australian Rugby Union over funding arrangements for the new team. The ARU gives the existing Australian franchises – ACT Brumbies, Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs and Western Force – an annual grant of more than $4m, but has refused to offer parity to the Victorians.

Back in wintry England, the Premiership game between Sale and Harlequins on Friday night is under threat from the weather, to the extent that the hosts have asked for volunteers to work on the Edgeley Park surface over the next couple of days. The pitch is covered by a blanket and hot air is being blown on to it around the clock, but part of the frost-protection material is under snow and this could lead to a postponement if the temperature drops sharply.