Rowntree boost for Lions but Stevens worries Woodward

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There is good news and bad news on the Lions front for Sir Clive Woodward. On the upside, Leicester say their loose-head prop Graham Rowntree should be fully fit within two to three weeks.

There is good news and bad news on the Lions front for Sir Clive Woodward. On the upside, Leicester say their loose-head prop Graham Rowntree should be fully fit within two to three weeks.

A scan revealed fluid on the joint but no damage to ligament or bone in Rowntree's knee and Leicester hope to have him back in action in two to three weeks.

The Tigers head coach, John Wells, even struck a note of optimism over the flanker Lewis Moody, who suffered medial ligament damage for which the worst case scenario looks to be between four and five weeks. Wells said: "At this stage we think he'll be out for two to three weeks."

The bad news is that Matt Stevens, Bath's tight-head prop, has, ominously, had his appointment with an orthopaedic specialist put back to tomorrow to allow his injury to settle down still further.

Stevens sustained damage to the posterior cruciate ligament of his right knee against London Irish at the weekend and the prognosis, at least before any scans and X-rays, is gloomy, with experts acknowledging that conservative treatment - rest and rehabilitation - is the best route, with surgery being a last resort.

Sale yesterday signed the Wales and former British Lion centre Mark Taylor on a three-year contract. The 32-year-old Taylor, who won his 49th cap in the Grand Slam clincher against Ireland, was also a target of Bristol and London Irish.

Sale's director of rugby, Philippe Saint-André, said: "The signing of Mark Taylor underlines our ambition to become one of the top clubs in Europe. Mark has played for Wales over the last 10 years and is one of the best centres in the northern hemisphere."

Taylor added: "The prospect of playing alongside Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and two of the League's best wingers in Mark Cueto and Steve Hanley is very exciting.

"The management team and set-up at Sharks impressed me and I hope very much to become a key part of a side that has the potential to challenge for the top honours."

Llanelli's first attempt at recruiting a replacement for Taylor has failed. They wanted to sign France's Tony Marsh, but the New Zealand-born centre has turned them down, preferring to stay with his club Clermont Auvergne.

Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland fly-half and centre, has said he is ready to return to the international fold if required by the new head coach.

Townsend, 32, who won 82 caps before being axed in Matt Williams' original shake-up of the Scotland squad when he took over after the 2003 World Cup, said: "I did not want to retire at all 16 months ago. I have missed international rugby, so we will see what happens." The Australian Williams was sacked earlier this week.

Wasps have signed England's Under-21 back row player James Haskell, 20, on a new, two-year contract.

London Irish have appointed Ian Taylor, the Sport Scotland chief executive, as their new CEO. Taylor, 50, who takes up his post early next month, won an Olympic Gold with the Great Britain hockey team at the Seoul Games in 1988 and a bronze at Los Angeles in 1984.

Two departing directors of rugby, Warren Gatland (Wasps) and John Wells (Leicester) head the list of nominees for the O2 director of rugby of the season award at the Zurich Premiership Awards dinner in London on 4 May.

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