RFU attempts to keep England for the English

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Faced with a wave of "foreigners" in the upper echelons of English rugby, the Rugby Football Union is ready to keep its Celtic invaders on the fringe by restricting the numbers of Scots, Welsh and Irish players permitted to play in the Courage Championship. So much for the United Kingdom.

When the RFU executive committee meets tomorrow it may introduce a limit, for the First Division at least, as low as two non-English players per team for next season with the figure being reduced to one for 1996-97.

These moves arise from pressure from an England management exercised by the possibility of an imminent influx of non-Englishmen. Among others, from Wales Ieuan Evans has provisionally signed for Harlequins and Arwel Thomas for Bristol, while the Scot Gregor Townsend and the Ulsterman Jonathan Bell have signed for Northampton.

As they are all UK citizens they would have an entirely justifiable complaint about this apparent attempt to impair their freedom of movement as rugby players. Certainly John Elliott, the England selector, had no such difficulty when he played for Edinburgh Wanderers in the distant past.

"There's nothing settled yet but there is concern where we have situations when an England selector goes along to a match and can't pick as many as 20 per cent of players on view," John Jeavons-Fellows, the RFU competitions chairman, said yesterday.

"The percentage is going to increase because there are already in the order of 10 new Scots, Irish and Welsh internationals registered to appear in the First Division next season." Exile clubs such as London Scottish, London Irish and London Welsh would be exempted and the restriction would apply only to teams on the field, not squads.

The drift to England began this season with West Hartlepool's acquisition of Rob Wainwright and Derrick Patterson from north of the border and Nick Popplewell moving from Ireland to Wasps. Bath have four Scots (Reed, Hilton, Peters and now Nicol) in their squad as well as the Ireland wing, Simon Geoghegan, and a Welshman, Iestyn Lewis.

Bath have a second cause for complaint, having been allocated only 13,000 tickets for the Pilkington Cup final against Wasps at Twickenham on 6 May. With the capacity down to 61,000 while rebuilding proceeds, the finalists will receive 4,500 fewer than last year and 9,000 fewer than 1992, when Twickenham held only 60,500 but had far fewer debenture-holders.

After they have catered for their members, players, committee and others, Bath will have precisely 100 tickets left for sale to the public. "I have spoken to the RFU about gaining some of Wasps' allocation if they don't sell their 13,000," the club secretary, John Quin, said. "But there is already a lengthy waiting list and I've been advised not to expect any extra tickets."

Wherever Scotland's players are next season, they have already refused to participate in a promotional event for Famous Grouse, one of their sponsors, after they arrive in South Africa for the World Cup. Ian McLauchlan, the players' agent, is meeting the company today to sort out his clients' commercial commitments.

Scottish World Cup squad, page 39