Saracens seal deal for Farrell to cross the great divide

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The Independent Online

Saracens have won the race to sign the Great Britain rugby league captain, Andy Farrell, ahead of Northampton and Leicester. The former Wigan player will be unveiled in Watford today.

Saracens have won the race to sign the Great Britain rugby league captain, Andy Farrell, ahead of Northampton and Leicester. The former Wigan player will be unveiled in Watford today.

Farrell, 29, who has been recovering from a knee operation, has been declared fit by the Rugby Football Union's medical experts. The three-year deal, which is worth close to £1m, will see Saracens and the RFU sharing the burden of Farrell's £700,000 salary. Twickenham paid a "transfer fee" to Wigan, believed to be in the region of £200,000, to cover the remainder of Farrell's Super League contract.

Farrell, a rugby league forward, has played only one exhibition match of union, against Bath in 1996, and as yet no one has said where in the 15-a-side game he will play. One school of thought suggests it should be somewhere in the backs, because of his handling, running and kicking skills, and it is believed Saracens would like to try him out at inside centre initially, before moving him into the back row. The England head coach, Andy Robinson, is believed to see him as best suited to the No 8 position.

There is also the question of when he will be fit enough to play. England, without those players selected for the British and Irish Lions, have a Churchill Cup tour to Canada this summer and it could be that Robinson would like to include Farrell on that. A more likely time would be in the autumn, when Australia, New Zealand and Samoa are due at Twickenham.

If Farrell does not acclimatise quickly enoughhe could find himself making his red rose debut against this season's Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales, who open their 2006 campaign at Twickenham on Saturday 4 February.

Once again the tournament will span seven weeks, with two free weekends. The final weekend again sees staggered kick-off times, and each country plays one home and one away match on a Sunday.

Another rugby league convert, Gloucester's centre Henry Paul, will miss the Cherry and Whites' Premiership match at London Irish this weekend and could be out for up to six weeks after injuring a knee in the World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong.

The Ireland lock Paul O'Connell has beenfound guilty by a three-man disciplinary panel of punching in the Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff last Saturday. O'Connell has been banned for two weeks and will miss Munster's Celtic League match against the Newport-Gwent Dragons tomorrow, butwill be free to play in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Biarritz on 3 April.

There was even better news at the same hearing for Salvatore Perugini, the Italy tight-head prop, who like O'Connell had been cited after the weekend's matches. In the Italian's case the citation was for an incident that left the France wing Christophe Dominici unconscious. The panel found that the incident would not have warranted a red card had the referee acted at the time, so Perugini is free to play.

Scotland's Australia-born lock Nathan Hines, 28, will leave Edinburgh at the end of the season to join Perpignan.

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