Saint-Andre puts his trust in the global game

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The Frenchman Philippe Saint-André may or may not have come across Harry Lime's parting speech from "The Third Man" but it would save him an extremely bumpy ride if those sentiments turned out to count for something at Kingsholm.

The Frenchman Philippe Saint-André may or may not have come across Harry Lime's parting speech from "The Third Man" – the one about Italy under the Borgias turning out Michelangelo and the Renaissance, while 500 years of peace and brotherly love in Switzerland produced nothing more impressive than the cuckoo clock – but it would save him an extremely bumpy ride if those sentiments turned out to count for something at Kingsholm. There is not much brotherly love at The Shed right now, and the lack of harmony will inevitably cost Saint-André his job unless results dictate otherwise.

It is just possible that the conflicts inherent in a polyglot, multi-lingual dressing-room will ignite a creative passion over and above anything Gloucester have brought to the Zurich Premiership since Saint-André took over from Richard Hill midway through 1998-99.

Certainly, the raw talent is there for all to see. Diego Albanese, Cristian Stoica, Ludovic Mercier, Dimitri Yachvili, Patrice Collazo and Federico Pucciarello – three Frenchmen, two Italians and an Argentinian – were imported from the French Championship during the summer, and all are expected to make their competitive debuts against Northampton this afternoon. If they click, they will be worth watching.

But will they click this afternoon? Will they ever click? And anyway, how impressed are the likes of Trevor Woodman and Andy Gomarsall at the thought of missing the season's opener while the League of Nations thunders around the paddock in a communicative fog? This week's abrupt departure of Andy Keast, a popular and highly able assistant coach, amid a flurry of players' meetings and boardroom deliberations, has left Saint-André more exposed than an elderly hiker on the slopes of the Matterhorn. He badly needs the support of a thumping good result today.

It has fallen to Francois Jacobus Boer, a man of Cape Town, to lick the new boys into shape against a Northampton side finding their own way in the big wide world following the departures of Bateman, Pagel, Rodber and Lam. "Defeat is not an option," said the flanker and captain yesterday. "I don't play rugby to lose and we will throw everything at it. The things that were dealt with earlier this week were dealt with by the powers that be at this club. At the end of the day, we are paid to play rugby."

Boer's old club, London Irish, travel to Harlequins with Naka Drotske installed in the middle of their front row. Drotske, a Springbok Test hooker of considerable repute, is a valuable capture for the Exiles as they attempt to stamp some authority on the Premiership after two characterless campaigns in the shadow of Wasps and Saracens. However, Quins have named their international-class newcomers, Dan Luger and Tony Diprose, alongside the likes of Will Greenwood and Keith Wood in a squad boasting all the talents, and look more than capable of building from their last serious outing – the European Shield triumph over Narbonne in May.

Meanwhile, Julian White, the England prop who spent most of the summer trying to avoid playing for Bristol, will make his debut for the West Country club against Sale tomorrow after being assured by the head coach, Dean Ryan, that the slate is clean. Bristol also field four newcomers in their back-line – two bright young English hopefuls in Phil Christophers and Andrew Higgins, alongside two Super 12 players in Matt Carrington and Jason Little, who captains the side. Similarly, Newcastle have awarded Premiership debuts to the rookie prop James Isaacson and the equally inexperienced flanker Jon Dunbar. The pair take on Leicester at Kingston Park.

For all the interest in the start of a new Premiership struggle, the most significant event of the day takes place about as far away from Newcastle as rugby gets. In Sydney, to be precise, where John Eales, incontestably the finest player of his generation, retires after this morning's Tri-Nations decider between Australia and New Zealand. In harvesting 86 caps and two World Cup winners' medals as a Wallaby lock of unrivalled expertise, he reinvented the role of the second row forward. No lock – not Colin Meads, not Frik de Preez, not Abdel Benazzi, not Martin Johnson – could match Eales's range of skills, which encompassed everything from peerless line-out athleticism to cucumber-cool goal-kicking.

For years, the Australians nicknamed him "Nobody" – as in, "Nobody's Perfect". In reality, Eales was a sporting everyman: a fiercely competitive, lavishly gifted professional games player, who somehow managed to remain approachable and polite to all-comers. The Wallaby Test side will be the poorer for his departure. So too will rugby's oval nation.

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