NEWCASTLE Falcons are still waiting for confirmation that Irish scrum-half Peter Stringer can play a part in their Aviva Premiership survival push after a dramatic transfer deadline day which saw two further new arrivals.
Ospreys lock James Goode and Worcester flanker Adam Balding were both signed up before the close of business last night, while uncertainty remains over Stringer’s status.
The 34-year-old was named as a Newcastle player by his Irish province Munster, having been on loan at Premiership champions Saracens since December 5.
Saracens then echoed Munster’s statement confirming the move, revealing the 98-times-capped half-back would be available for the final five of Newcastle’s seven remaining games. However, Falcons officials maintained both teams had jumped the gun in declaring it a done deal and their worst fears were confirmed when Premiership Rugby began to cast doubt over the legality of the switch.
The Journal can reveal Stringer’s original loan move from Munster to Saracens came on the proviso he spent a minimum of three months with the Watford-based club as dictated by Heineken Cup regulations.
That three-month period expires a week on Monday but, with rugby’s transfer deadline coming at midnight last night, what seemed a routine switch on the face of it has turned into a tangled bureaucratic web.
Newcastle have wisely kept their counsel and not gone public on Stringer’s arrival, despite it being widely reported as a fait accompli.
A senior Falcons official confirmed to The Journal last night Stringer is already registered as a Newcastle player with the Rugby Football Union, who were fully aware of the circumstances and had raised no objections.
The Falcons, Saracens and Munster are all comfortable with the terms and dates of the switch, which would see the player eligible from Newcastle’s trip to Worcester on March 23 onwards.
However, the intervention of Premiership Rugby in questioning the details of the move led to an understandably cautious approach from Kingston Park officials who, by late last night, had still not officially confirmed Stringer’s arrival.
Whether or not that ends up scuppering the move altogether remains to be seen, but it is not hard to understand why Newcastle are so keen to land one of world rugby’s iconic names as they enter the final stretch of their relegation run-in.
Just two shy of a century of test caps, the diminutive half-back formed part of a lethal partnership with Ronan O’Gara for both Munster and Ireland, with the famous province winning two Heineken Cups and three Celtic League titles during his stay. His presence at Saracens as injury cover for Richard Wigglesworth and Neil de Kock has seen a string of outstanding performances, most recently last weekend in helping them to a narrow win over the Falcons’ relegation rivals London Wasps.
There was better news elsewhere on deadline day for the Falcons, who completed the signings of former favourite Balding from Worcester and Ospreys lock Goode.
Both have signed short-term deals until the end of the season, althoughneither will be involved in the match-day 23 for tomorrow’s trip to Leicester.
The 32-year-old Balding made 37 appearances for Newcastle between 2008 and 2010, playing at both blind-side flanker and No 8.
Director of rugby Gary Gold said: “The reason for signing Adam is that we have a need for strength in depth in the loose forwards and we are trying to play quite a direct game at the moment.
“Having a big ball-carrier like him is useful with that in mind and he has vast Premiership experience.
“He is returning to an environment he knows and it will be great to have him back because he can also add something to the leadership group we have here.
“We know how tough the next seven games are going to be and we need guys who have been in the front-line before.”
Balding is joined by 29-year-old lock-forward Goode in the Kingston Park arrivals lounge, Gold welcoming the arrival of the 6ft 7 line-out specialist.
He added: “James has been in and out of the Ospreys team and last Friday night he was on the bench for the British and Irish Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones.
“He is a good line-out forward and a No 5 lock which, with James Hudson’s injury, is something we badly need.
“Huddo is going to be out for longer than we originally expected with his pectoral injury and James coming in from Ospreys gives us excellent cover there.
“We have Andrew Van der Heijden, Tim Swinson and Adriaan Fondse as front locks, but we were really in need of someone like James to come in and complement them by offering something a bit different.
“It is a big opportunity for James and he is eager to get game-time.
“It is a short-term deal until the end of this season.”