Internationals ignite transfer market

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Rugby's brand-new transfer market went into a frenzy yesterday when Jonathan Davies was accompanied by Jonathan Griffiths in coming home to Wales, three internationals - Tony Underwood of England, Gary Armstrong and Doddie Weir of Scotland - prepared to join Newcastle, and two more - Mike Hall and Gareth Llewellyn of Wales registered for Wasps.

Cardiff finally got their man when they suddenly agreed terms with Warrington to release Davies from his contract, an increased offer of pounds 55,000 having been turned down on Monday. He could go into the team as soon as Saturday's Welsh First Division game against Aberavon.

Davies, who won 29 caps as Wales outside-half between 1985 and 1988, has signed a week too late for him to be considered for the Wales team to play Fiji on Saturday week but even at 33, a venerable age for a stand- off, he has every prospect of gaining a 30th cap in the Five Nations' Championship in the new year.

Underwood, meanwhile, will be in Newcastle today to sign his contract with the Second Division strugglers but the gaff was blown when Leicester decided to reveal all once he had informed them of his departure. The three newcomers follow Rob Andrew, Dean Ryan, Steve Bates and Nick Popplewell to the North-east though none except Andrew is eligible to participate in Newcastle's fight against relegation until the latter stages of the season.

Davies and Griffiths are the first British players to avail themselves of the gangway opened by the International Board once it had opened rugby union to professionalism. Griffiths is rejoining Llanelli for a nominal fee from St Helens, and other exiles are bound to follow. Kevin Ellis, a former Bridgend scrum-half, is talking to Neath and Swansea are courting the Lions prop David Young.

In the end, Warrington thought better of hanging to a plainly disaffected player, though yesterday Davies had nothing but the kindest consideration for those he is leaving behind. "Since I moved to rugby league six years ago I have had a fantastic time and would not change a minute of it," he said in a statement issued by an agent.

"I can honestly say that I have given everything both mentally and physically to the teams I have played for and I have been well-rewarded not only financially but in fulfilment, friendship and team spirit. My departure is no reflection of my feelings for the game any more than my departure six years ago was a reflection on union.

"In 1989 I was unsure about my future and league offered me security as well as a sporting challenge. Now that I am approaching the end of my playing days the motivation is the same. All the opportunities for me to secure my long-term future are in south Wales. The fact that I can take advantage of those as well as play for Cardiff is a chance I could not resist."

Assuming Cardiff to have needed something in excess of pounds 60,000 to clinch the deal with Warrington, they could recoup the transfer fee in one go if the gate for the Aberavon match were to be increased by 10,000 on the strength of an appearance by Davies.

Cardiff are certainly aware of the public-relations value of their distinguished recruit, though yesterday Gareth Davies, the club's chief executive, preferred to keep the welcome low-key: "He is a big-name player. The publicity which will follow from this will be a big boost for Cardiff and Wales."

Andrew's triple signing for Newcastle is not quite all it seems. Weir last night admitted that he had signed a registration form to keep his options open but said he not discussed a contract and knew of no announcement set for today. Underwood, meanwhile, confirmed his departure from Leicester only when his club of the past eight years did it for him.

He is under instructions not to discuss his transfer until today but appreciates the seriousness of Newcastle's predicament at the nether end of the Second Division. On the assumption - given further credence by the Rugby Football Union president, Bill Bishop, yesterday - that the 120-day qualification period will remain in force, Underwood will be eligible for only the final four league games, by which time Newcastle may already be as good as down.

He does not - dare not - see it that way. "I am going up there confident that relegation will not happen," he said last night. Otherwise he is coy about why he should switch from the top end of the First Division.

"Really, I am not in a position now to give all my reasons," he added. Tony Russ, the Leicester coaching director, was more forthcoming: "He has been offered a package of rugby plus a career opportunity."

Davies, Griffiths, Underwood, Armstrong and Weir were not the only contributors to yesterday's extreme transfer turbulence. Wasps have begun their fightback after losing Andrew and the rest by registering two Welsh internationals, Hall of Cardiff and Llewellyn of Neath.

And Leeds, of the Fourth Division, have taken on Davies's stand-off successor at Llanelli, Colin Stephens, as player-coach.

TRADING PLACES: SEVEN PLAYERS ON THE MOVE

TONY UNDERWOOD

Leicester

to Newcastle

GARY ARMSTRONG

Jed-Forest

to Newcastle

DODDIE WEIR

Melrose

to Newcastle

MIKE HALL

Cardiff

to Wasps

GARETH LLEWELLYN

Neath

to Wasps

JONATHAN DAVIES

Warrington (league)

to Cardiff (union)

JONATHAN GRIFFITHS

St Helens (league)

to Llanelli (union)

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