Newcastle bid pounds 40,000 for Archer

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Rugby Union

Newcastle yesterday established their first priority in the spending of Sir John Hall's millions - a forward ball-winner - by approaching their former lock Garath Archer to return from Bristol for pounds 40,000 a year.

If this is what a 20-year-old who represented England A and Under-21 last season but still has a reputation to make, is deemed to be worth, the sums available to seasoned internationals - such as Martin Bayfield, whose name is the latest to be persistently associated with the North- east - will be unimaginable.

Money is evidently no object for Bayfield's England team-mate Rob Andrew, Newcastle's development director. Newcastle are also interested in Bristol's Scotland prop Alan Sharp, for whom there would be an added temptation as he is unemployed. Martin Corry, the England Under-21 captain who accompanied Archer in the move from Tyneside, says he is not interested in returning so soon

As Archer has only just joined from the former Newcastle Gosforth, it is scarcely surprising that Bristol are mounting a vigorous defence of their asset. "The Bristol club will not sit by and watch our players being poached," Brian Hanlon, coaching co-ordinator, said.

It is down to Bristol to put together an alternative package. "We will have the opportunity to come up with an offer of our own before any registration forms or contracts are signed," Hanlon added. "Garath and the people representing him have said they will inform me of what's going on before they do anything."

With the rules as they stand, Archer would have to go through a second 120-day qualification period having just done 120 days before playing for Bristol. Completion of the deal is some way off, however, the Rugby Football Union having declared a moratorium on club professionalism for this season and advised players in the England squads against signing anything before the RFU has finalised its own contracts.

Archer is a private in the Royal Signals stationed at Harrogate who joined Bristol in anticipation of a transfer to Colerne in Wiltshire in the new year. The offer from Newcastle involves a car and other benefits as well as the annual pounds 40,000, though there is the complication of Archer's Army career also to deal with.

At Bristol Archer, 6ft 7in, has formed an immense second-row partnership with another A international, the 6ft 9in Simon Shaw, and he would have to weigh the short-term cost of dropping to the Second Division against the long-term financial benefits and being in a bought-in team of leading players.

The approach makes the work of the RFU's professionalism commission even more urgent, particularly as it relates to the setting-up of a formalised transfer system - something eight of the 10 English First Division clubs favour in this month's Rugby World poll.