North's test of Epruc's resolve

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
North selectors are to test the resolve of the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs in their continuing battle with the Rugby Football Union.

Epruc officials have told the RFU that players from Courage League One and Two clubs will not be made available for Divisional representative sides in matches against touring teams. But in the North's 38-strong squad named yesterday, all but two players are from clubs represented by Epruc. The exceptions are the former Wigan and Halifax rugby league winger Mark Preston, now with Fylde, and Mike Shelley, the Leeds prop.

"The squad we have invited is obviously provisional since we are not sure exactly how players and clubs will respond," said the chairman of North selectors, John Spencer, the former England centre.

Sale, who provide 13 players, and Second Division Wakefield have made it clear they will not stand in the way of their players if they wish to play for the North, and First Division Orrell are likely to follow suit.

Bristol's Lions scrum-half Robert Jones is in hospital undergoing treatment on a back injury that threatens to wreck his season. The former Wales captain has been receiving traction therapy for a collapsed disc, but could still face surgery - and a six-month lay-off - if doctors are not satisfied. Jones, 30, signed a two-year, pounds 100,000 contract during the summer.

Jack Rowell, the England coach, showed no inclination to disrupt his squad's preparations for next month's Test against Italy in naming a virtually unchanged training group for next Wednesday's training session.

The squad is increased to 47 by the addition of Wasps' uncapped loose forward Peter Scrivener, who was at the earlier sessions but missed the most recent one through injury.

The London Irish centre Rob Henderson and Ballymena wing James Topping will win their first Ireland caps when they take the field against Western Samoa at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, on 12 November.

IRELAND (to play Western Samoa at Lansdowne Road, November 12): S Mason (Richmond); R Wallace (Saracens), R Henderson (London Irish), J Bell (Northampton), J Topping (Ballymena); D Humphreys (London Irish), N Hogan (Oxford Univ, capt); N Popplewell (Newcastle), A Clarke (Northampton), P Wallace (Saracens), G Fulcher (London Irish), J Davidson (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), D McBride (Malone), P Johns (Saracens). Replacements: M Field (Malone), P Burke (Bristol), S McIvor (Garryowen), M Galwey (Shannon), H Hurley (Moseley), M McDermott (Lansdowne).

English clubs, who face a cash crisis in the professional era, have had a request for an immediate pounds 1.4m turned down by the RFU. The poorer Epruc clubs among Leagues One and Two, who are struggling to pay their bills, want the promised grant from the Rugby Football Union now to help them out. Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, defended the decision: "There is pounds 8m on offer from all sources to Epruc this season - when they are ready to sign. But any lesser amount, or all of it, cannot be paid out until we have reached an agreement."