TWENTY-FOUR hours after two struggling Premiership teams, Bath and Bristol, confirmed rumours of a possible merger that will infuriate 99 per cent of the poor saps who pay to watch rugby in the West Country - not to mention the coaches and players who may soon be in receipt of a P45 rather than a wage slip - the increasingly successful Sale club announced details of a merger that could well be the making of them. Next season, they will do their thing at Edgeley Park, the home of Stockport County, rather than Heywood Road, home to two ramshackle stands and a couple of elderly squash courts. Ah, luxury.
Brendan Elwood, the chairman of the Second Division football club, has sold his majority shareholding to a new company, Cheshire Sport Ltd, which will be driven by Brian Kennedy, the millionaire owner of Sale. This happy meeting of footballing codes means Edgeley Park can be made to "sweat", to use the parlance of the stadium business, and guarantees Sale a venue that meets all known criteria for a long and profitable stay in the Premiership. All they have to do is ensure they stay up.
Judging by their form this season, and the highly significant capture of the Scottish international forward Jason White for next term, nothing seems more certain. Victory over Wasps this evening, in what may be their final fixture at dinky little Heywood Road, will put them in pole position for a place in the Zurich Championship final at Twickenham and a shot at the title that should already be Gloucester's, but isn't. Mark Cueto, their exceptional right wing, may well return after a bout of gastric trouble, and if Dan Harris recovers from injury in time to take his place in the centre, they will look the part behind the scrum.
So, too, will Wasps, who have Fraser Waters back in midfield alongside the fast-developing Stuart Abbott and a threatening back three of Mark van Gisbergen, Josh Lewsey and the highly promising John Rudd. It seems more than likely that the two sharpest attacking outfits in the Premiership will meet again in the championship semi- final on 18 May - another peculiarity in a very peculiar conclusion to the season. …