It is no small thing for a retired international captain to dragoon himself into playing his first match of the season, just when he thought he was safely in his dotage. Yet form and fitness were the least of Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s worries yesterday as he went in search of his long-forgotten boots. Having decided that he should play an active role for Gloucester in tonight's significant set-to with Leicester at Welford Road, the Cherry and Whites' director of rugby discovered to his mortification that his presence in the squad might breach the Premiership salary cap.
Gloucester are so riddled with back-line injuries - Chris Catling, Brian Johnson, Tom Beim, Simon Mannix and Laurie Beck have all "gone crook", while Terry Fanolua and Chris Yates are struggling to make this evening's fixture - that Saint-AndrÃ©, as game as they come, has made himself available. He made a second member of the Kingsholm coaching team, the former Bath full-back Audley Lumsden, available too. The theory went something like this: Lumsden would start the game in the No 15 shirt, with Saint-AndrÃ© primed for a second-half wing appearance from the bench.
So far, so good. However, the participation of both was threatened after the coach was alerted to a possible problem with the salary regulations introduced by the top-flight clubs at the start of the season. The Frenchman, who owns a bar in Clermont-Ferrand and is used to balancing the books, was giving his pocket calculator a thorough hammering last night in an effort to work out whether he could actually afford to play himself. "It's a daft situation, to say the least," said a Gloucester spokesman. "All we're trying to do is put a team on the pitch."
Leicester, favourites for the title, are confident of pulling in around 16,000 for the game, thereby becoming the first club to pass the million mark for league attendances. What is more, the Princess Royal, patron of the Gloucestershire county union, will be in attendance, although there is no truth in the rumour that she intends going to matches on a regular basis until someone relieves her of the Six Nations trophy she originally planned to present to England at Murrayfield.
If Gloucester fail to chisel out a result, their once vibrant Premiership campaign might well disappear in a puff of cherry-coloured smoke. Having lost recent home fixtures with Northampton and Bath, the long-time leaders are down in fourth, three points off the pace. The Tigers are two points ahead of them with a game in hand, but the visitors will be more concerned with wrapping up a place in next season's Heineken Cup as quickly as possible.
Kingsley Jones, the Gloucester captain, was characteristically upbeat about his side's chances yesterday. "Everyone is saying our bubble has burst, but a win would put us right back on top, level on points with Bath," he said. "I think we can finish in the top four, and as Heineken Cup qualification was our aim at the start of the season, that is a priority."
Leicester go in without their scrummaging foundation stone, Darren Garforth, who has a knee injury; John Akurangi, a New Zealander, fills the gap in the front row. The Tigers are pretty much at full strength elsewhere, however, and are well positioned to continue their quietly efficient challenge for a second successive title.
The former Wasps and England threequarter Damian Hopley, now chairman of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, yesterday called for a watertight gambling ban on all active participants at the top level. He was reacting to news from Wales concerning Neil Boobyer, the Llanelli centre, who admitted betting on rugby matches regularly. Although Boobyer stressed he had never gambled on the outcome of a game in which he had been involved, Hopley insisted: "It's pretty straightforward. No professional sportsman should be allowed to bet."Reuse content