Saints line up Smith and Eales to stop the slide

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The Independent Online

The Premiership strugglers Northampton are reported to be set to appoint the former New Zealand coach Wayne Smith to take over from John Steele. According to a report Saints are also prepared to "break the bank" to entice Australia's World Cup-winning captain John Eales to come and play for them.

Smith resigned from the All Blacks post at the end of the Tri-Nations series at the beginning of September, changed his mind and reapplied for the position only to be overlooked for John Mitchell. But last night it emerged that Northampton, who established a New Zealand connection when Wayne Shelford played for and coached them a few seasons ago, had already approached Smith and further talks are planned.

Saints, European champions a year ago, have failed even to qualify for the quarter-finals this year and are third from bottom in the Premiership, thus endangering their European Cup participation next season.

It is anticipated that Steele would be made the director of rugby. The interest in Eales, who retired from international rugby after the Tri-Nations, arose when it was learned he was looking to take up a two-year degree course at Oxford University.

Amid all the glamour and glitter of a weekend of international rugby – including World Cup qualifiers there are no fewer than 11 Tests taking place around the globe – one fixture brings a sobering reminder of the darker side of the game.

Just 20 months ago Andy Blyth suffered a terrible spinal injury which initially left him a tetraplegic. It happened at Saracens in March last year; since then, thankfully, the former Sale centre has made dramatic strides on the road to recovery.

Tomorrow the two sides again meet at Vicarage Road and, in addition to Premiership points, they will also be playing for the inaugural annual Blyth Spirit Challenge Shield, which has been donated by Blyth to acknowledge the support he has received from players and fans of both clubs. It will be a charity match, the money raised going to spinal injuries charities.

Leaders Leicester give the former Australian international Rod Kafer a start at outside half for their trip to Leeds tomorrow. The Yorkshire club hinted that Martin Johnson might make a surprise return in advance of a return to international action the following week for England against Romania. The manager Dean Richards, with a dozen players unavailable, said: "We'll be calling on all our resources and there may be a few surprises on the bench this Saturday."

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