Sale secure Hodgson and Cueto with fresh deals

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The Independent Online

It has been an interesting 48 hours for Charlie Hodgson, to say the least. The Sale outside-half's chances of cementing his place in the England side were considerably improved when Jonny Wilkinson, his long-term opponent in the contest for the national No 10 shirt, picked up the latest in a long line of injuries during Newcastle's fruitless Heineken Cup trip to Perpignan at the weekend. Yesterday, Hodgson's future at club level also became clearer when he signed a new contract keeping him at Edgeley Park until 2007.

His club colleague and fellow international, the wing Mark Cueto, arrived at a similar agreement, thereby exposing confident predictions of an imminent move to Saracens as so much stuff and nonsense.

"Sale gave me my big chance in 2001 and I am settled in the area," Cueto said. "There was interest from other clubs but I never wanted to leave. I believe we are on the verge of great things."

Hodgson had also been linked with a move away from the North-West. Both Leicester and Northampton had featured among the possible destinations for the most imaginative footballing stand-off to emerge in England in the professional era - heaven knows, both Midlands clubs could use someone of his ability - and at 24, he could certainly have negotiated a top-dollar deal had he chosen to explore pastures new. But Sale's sharp improvement under Philippe Saint-André, whose impact as director of rugby has been one of the more significant developments in recent months, was enough to keep Hodgson firmly in situ.

"We have realistic ambitions to become the best club in the country over the next few years, and this means we must retain our best players," said Niels de Vos, the Sale chief executive, yesterday. "Charlie is one of the outstanding outside-halves in world rugby at present, while Mark has continually been at the top of the Premiership try-scoring charts form he is now bringing to the international arena. There isn't a club in the Premiership who wouldn't want these two players, and I'm delighted we've kept them alongside Jason Robinson, who signed a similar deal earlier in the season.

De Vos confirmed that two tight forwards, the Scottish international prop Barry Stewart and the ball-winning lock Dean Schofield, had also put pen to paper on two-year extensions to their contracts.

This Sunday's pivotal Heineken Cup pool match between Newcastle and Newport-Gwent Dragons on Tyneside was brewing nicely as the English club's director of rugby, Rob Andrew, publicly took the Welshmen to task over comments from the flanker Jamie Ringer, who accused Andrew of arrogance over his refusal to take his side to a function after the first match between the two at Rodney Parade in October.

"I have a great regard for Welsh rugby, and have many good friends in the game from Wales, so I was extremely surprised to read these comments," Andrew said. "The team did not go to the post-match hospitality at Rodney Parade because we had to make a 5.30pm flight from Bristol Airport to attend a function for the wife and children of Soa Otuvaka, a Newcastle player who died of a brain tumour last year. I do not accept that I acted arrogantly, and I would hope people checked the facts before making such statements to the media."

* The Scotland flanker Donnie Macfadyen will miss the Six Nations following an operation on his left knee.

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