Quins lure Jones and Thomas

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HARLEQUINS have outbid Swansea for the services of Robert Jones and Arwel Thomas, potentially the most attractive pair of half-backs in British rugby union.

Robert Jones has already made up his mind to join the English National League One club on a two-year contract, and Arwel Thomas, the Bristol stand-off who met Harlequins last Wednesday, is expected to follow him despite attempts to lurehim back to Wales. They both hail from the same village of Trebanos, in the Swansea Valley.

It is understood that the packages Quins are offering to Jones and Thomas and others - Gareth Llewellyn and Ben Clarke are also reported to be considering offers - are substantial. They consist of a guaranteed pounds 30,000 a year, plus a match appearance fee of pounds 1,000 and an added bonus of pounds 500 for each win.

Jones decided to join Harlequins last week and his decision was made simpler by a sense of injustice that has dogged him in the past few years as so many lesser men have been picked in his position for Wales.

He was heading for another row yesterday after an interview with Rugby World magazine in which he criticised Wales's selection policy. The publishers tried to place an advert for the issue in the programme for Saturday's Wales v Scotland match but were refused by the WRU on the grounds that the advert was "inappropriate".

Clive Rowlands, a past President of the Welsh Rugby Union, confirmed that Jones, his son-in-law whom he believes has been shabbily treated by the authorities, sees the move as a great opportunity. "Robert has carried himself with great dignity and this move to Harlequins will give him new horizons," the former Welsh captain and coach said. "He is doing the right thing and a partnership with Arwel could prove one of the most exciting things in English rugby next season."

Jones feels that playing his last few seasons with an English club such as Harlequins will give him a new lease of life and - even if he is ignored by the Welsh selectors - he may still be considered by the Lions' selectors for the tour to South Africa in the summer of 1997.

Departures of players in the class of Jones on the back of a cheque book, will be the stark reality of the new professionalism. It was exactly what Vernon Pugh, the Welsh chairman of the International Board, was trying to prevent when the 180-day restriction on players moving from country to country was announced recently. The principle was instantly shot down by Twickenham and it is evidently unworkable. The only effect it might have is in delaying transfers while the courts go through the process of confirming that it is in contravention of EU labour laws.

It is a cause of concern to Welsh rugby, and clubs such as Swansea, that they cannot compete with what seems to be an inexhaustible supply of money pouring into the English clubs, particularly as Wales are, at present, throwing up a superb bunch of young players, who need two or three years to mature properly.