Skinstad targets Wakefield after rebuff from Orrell

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The prospect of a little piece of Lancashire materialising in west London has receded with the news that the once-mighty Orrell club is to be offered to existing members rather than the southern hemisphere consortium of entrepreneurs and ex-internationals who hoped to buy the business - and, by extension, a place in England's national league - and relocate to Loftus Road, the home of Queen's Park Rangers. But while Shepherd's Bush is likely to remain a whippet-free zone for the time being, the idea is far from dead.

The prospect of a little piece of Lancashire materialising in west London has receded with the news that the once-mighty Orrell club is to be offered to existing members rather than the southern hemisphere consortium of entrepreneurs and ex-internationals who hoped to buy the business - and, by extension, a place in England's national league - and relocate to Loftus Road, the home of Queen's Park Rangers. But while Shepherd's Bush is likely to remain a whippet-free zone for the time being, the idea is far from dead.

Wakefield, the Yorkshire club struggling at the wrong end of National League One, are also a target for the consortium, fronted by the former Springbok captain Bobby Skinstad and backed by the World Cup- winning New Zealand hooker and all-round legend Sean Fitzpatrick. Skinstad turned his back on South African rugby to sign for the Newport-Gwent Dragons, where he is currently playing on a short-term contract. For his part, Fitzpatrick spent the entire Six Nations Championship in England, working as a television pundit. Both men appear to see a lucrative future in this neck of the union woods.

"This is an exciting concept," Skinstad said yesterday. "I feel the southern hemisphere has fallen off the pace a little. England is where rugby is developing. The relocation is relatively simple, but what we leave behind is important. The clubs we are talking to are steeped in history and tradition and we would want to do our best for the amateur arm and the amateur players. Our backers are such sports-mad people that they would not go ahead at the cost of clubs and communities."

Much of the momentum behind this venture comes from South Africa, but the consortium is said to include New Zealanders and Australians, as well the American owner of the Miami Dolphins gridiron team, Wayne Huizenga. The QPR management is already onside - Wasps, who used to play at Loftus Road, are unlikely to return there from High Wycombe, where they are in the process of building a new audience - and as Harlequins are the only Premiership team now playing in Greater London, there is a widespread belief that a new team calling themselves "London Tribe" would put bums on seats, with many of those rear ends belonging to southern hemisphere ex-pats.

Consortium members were keen to emphasise that any new team would not be staffed wholly by foreign personnel. English-qualified players would be made welcome, they said - an important point, given that there will be no new anything unless the Rugby Football Union's management board give the project their blessing. Skinstad said he hoped to put firm proposals to the RFU in mid-May, with a view to establishing a team in National League One at the start of next season.

Maurice Lindsay, the chief executive at Orrell, confirmed on Sunday that the consortium had approached the club's owner Dave Whelan, who wants to sever his ties with the sport. But Lindsay insisted the club would be handed, debt-free, to members, rather than sold to Skinstad and company.

Mark Connors, the Wallaby loose forward whose performances for Northampton over the last two Premiership campaigns have established him as one of the better foreign imports of recent seasons, has rejected the idea of spending a third year at Franklin's Gardens. The 32-year-old Queenslander will see out his career in Japan. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Gloucester prop Andy Deacon has decided to retire next month.

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