Rotherham rumours obscure the South African trail

Relegated side a prime target as London Tribe stalk their prey of an English club.
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The Independent Online

It might be time to put in a call to Red Adair. Ever since a determined South African consortium announced their intention to break into English club rugby, the fires have raged. We have known for weeks now that the so-called London Tribe are looking to buy a club that will ultimately see them rub shoulders with the Zurich Premiership élite. What we still don't know for certain is the identity of the revised targets.

Bristol and Orrell, both of National League One, have already gone on record as saying they fended off interest from the consortium, flush with bundles of millionaire Johann Rupert's cash. Insiders at Rotherham, now officially replaced in the Premiership by Worcester, held the opinion that they were not for sale - at any price.

Financially strapped Wakefield, meanwhile, have long been resigned to their fate that they are. But, are they a target for London Tribe? They were, until relegation cost them National League One status, and now their small group of loyal supporters is awaiting the club's next move. Even the name of Oxford surfaced as potential suitors.

Late last week, however, the internet chatrooms were abuzz with talk that Rotherham had been bought by London Tribe. But had they really sold out lock and stock? If so, two smoking barrels would be aimed in the direction of their majority stakeholder, Mike Yarlett, who enjoys a love-hate rapport with the fans.

The story appears to have emanated from the hand of the former Springbok communications manager, Mark Keohane. On a website he has started, he posted the news that the deal had been done last Wednesday. Keohane, who quit in controversial circumstances in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup, retains strong sources within the game, and the word spread.

Yet, it would be surprising if Rupert's men had indeed landed Rotherham. But the shareholders remained in the dark by the end of the week, though they are a club which would not - without RFU approval - be allowed to move to London, the plan of the ambitious South Africans. What's more, so active have the Titans been in the transfer market in terms of playing and coaching staff, to sell the club now would be peculiar. Although until the gossiping is officially denied, the cynics will continue to fan the flames, leaving the club's supporters with an anxious wait.

Yarlett is known to have spoken with the consortium, but he was unavailable to comment on whether the latest rumour had any substance. "He will be back in the office next Tuesday... until then he's not contactable," said his secretary. So, on the story rumbles.

What is certain is that the South Africans are not simply going to ride off into the summer sunset. The next meeting of the Rugby Football Union is on 11 June and the former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad, the players' public face of the consortium, admitted last week that it would be difficult to table a proposal by then.

"Our consortium is fronted by businessmen who are not going to throw their money at something without looking at every angle. They love sport and it's true that while we want to buy a club, we will not take the first one available. But what has surprised us is how many clubs actually are willing to talk about being bought," Skinstad said.

London Tribe, whose plan is to play home games at Loftus Road, have the leading South African agent Craig Livingston on standby to recruit players. Reliable word from the Republic is that some would-be signings are sitting next to their packed bags.

Many of the clubs who are "for sale" are privately said to be merely testing the waters and the extent of the South African consortium's willingness to invest. However, just how much the likes of Rupert intend putting up-front is also open to conjecture, with figures of between £700,000 and £3m - depending on the target's league status - being thrown around like confetti.

With the RFU holding council meetings on a monthly basis, it would not be the end of the road for London Tribe should they fail to meet the next deadline in 12 days. They could quite conceivably have a new target come the July sitting. With the new season scheduled to kick off in September they still have time to talk to clubs. And until clubs start talking to their members and put out the fires, the rumours will persist.