Saracens yesterday displayed Philippe Sella, the latest addition to their corporate team but they missed out on the most newsworthy signing. They could have had Peter Clohessy.
On Saturday, while Saracens were edging nearer to relegation, Clohessy was stamping on Olivier Roumat's head in the France-Ireland match. The Limerick prop, who is appealing against a 26-week ban, was recently "on offer" to the north London club but they decided not to take up the option.
"We want to bring the right sort of people to the club," said Nigel Wray, the businessman who liked Saracens so much that he bought the club. "Philippe is a nice bloke. That's very important to me. We don't want to lose the essential spirit."
Sella probably does not understand what "bloke" means and it is doubtful if he has ventured up the North Circular but he understands the colour of money. Having last month recruited Michael Lynagh, Australia's world record points scorer, Saracens now have the world's most capped player. Lynagh is said to be on pounds 100,000 a year for three years; Sella is on a one-year renewable contract.
It is an extraordinary development for a club that has rarely had two pennies to rub together and from next season will have two of the biggest names in the game, even if their best rugby is behind them. It must be a seller's market.
Sella, who was 34 last week, retired from international rugby in the summer after playing in his third World Cup. He made his debut for France in 1982 and captained his country 10 years later. He scored 30 tries and won 111 caps, a record that will take some beating.
Sella began by playing village rugby for Clairac, where he was born, and has spent his entire senior career with Agen. Through an interpreter, he said: "A rugby match has three phases. You prepare for it, then play and afterwards you enjoy. This is how I see my career with Clairac, Agen and Saracens." One of the principal reasons for his move is to expand his business, Sella Communication, a PR and marketing company that has opened an office in London. "After 15 years of playing rugby I'd like to speak better English and have more contact with people," Sella said.
Sella and Lynagh are unlikely to play at Bramley Road, Saracens' cramped ground, but will instead run out on the Enfield Town pitch. In a joint venture, Saracens will use the football club's ground while a stadium is being built to accommodate the rugby club the season after next.
"We are lighting a fire in north London," Wray said. "We have the most wonderful position but our support, compared to the soccer clubs, is nothing to as it could be. We have to take the game to the community. It's a hard task but we're on our way."
It will be an even harder task if Saracens, precariously placed in the First Division, go down. Tony Copsey, the former Wales lock, and Eddie Halvey, the Ireland flanker, will be available for the last four league games. Nor has the club given up hope of signing the Wales scrum-half Robert Howley.
"If Saracens go down," Sella said. "I will try to get them back up. It is one thing to go and play for a team that is top in the First Division but something else to join a club that has ambition." Saracens will ignore the 180-day registration period adopted by the International Board for players moving from one country to another and instead intend to implement the seven-day hiatus favoured by England. "There is a greater law than the IB," Wray said."It's called the EEC."
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