Hill's second thoughts on second string

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The Independent Online
Richard Hill, Gloucester's director of coaching, has had a change of heart over his controversial policy of fielding two first XVs - a weak one for matches he reckons Gloucester will lose; a strong one for matches that have been targeted for victory.

Hill has bowed to the opinion of the Gloucester faithful and is to abandon the strategy, which is just as well since the Rugby Football Union secretary, Tony Hallett, said yesterday that Twickenham will monitor matches involving Gloucester more closely after their 75-19 defeat at Harlequins in the opening Courage League match at the weekend.

Hill conceded today: "In hindsight, what I did on Saturday was not the right thing. I had the best of intentions and I thought it was a good idea. But I have learned a harsh lesson."

Problem solved. Unfortunately there are still plenty more dilemmas to occupy the RFU. Representatives of the other four home unions are keeping secret the location and date of their next meeting to discuss whether England should be allowed back into the Five Nations' Championship. The expectation is growing that a solution may be reached in time to save the tournament, following threats of a breakaway by the top clubs in England and Wales.

That impression was reinforced when Twickenham confirmed yesterday that the RFU is to offer new contracts to England squad members, with increased money. Leading players can expect to earn up to pounds 60,000 with a retainer and match fees of around pounds 3,000, and all this will be back dated to 3 September. The players can expect to receive the new contracts in the next few days.

There is hope that the former All Black wing Va'iga Tuigamala, who has been signed by Wasps but faced the prospect of sitting out the season because the Home Office refused to grant him a work permit after consultation with the RFU, may be cleared to play this season after all.

The Home Office is reviewing his case, and that could lead to Sale getting a similar concession for Simon Mannix. Sale have said they will register Mannix as an amateur to circumvent the red tape. The problem is that Tuigamala's job description states that he is a rugby league professional.

The Government demands a specific outline, and despite the crossover between the two codes since union went professional, as yet it has not occurred to Whitehall to accept a description "rugby professional".

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