RFU clamps down on 'foreign' club players

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The Independent Online

The participation of foreigners - if the Scots, Welsh and Irish to whom the new regulations will be applied can be so defined - at the sharp end of English club rugby will be restricted from next season at the behest of the England management.

However, the Rugby Football Union's anti-immigration policy is rather less Draconian than it might have been, since those already involved with English clubs will be exempt. Thus Bath, to take an obvious example, will still be able to play all four of their Anglo-Scots, as well as Simon Geoghegan of Ireland.

But next season, clubs in the national divisions of the Courage Championship will be permitted to field only two of any full or A internationals who henceforth arrive, and from the following season - 1996-97 - only one. The rule will also apply to uncapped players already at English clubs who go on to represent a Celtic country at either of these levels in the future.

According to John Jeavons-Fellows, the chairman of the RFU's competition committee, at the last count nine full non-England internationals and 31 other non-Englishmen had already signed up for English clubs next season. The notion that they could be exercising their rights as UK citizens does not impress the RFU, which after taking legal advice insists its new insularity conforms with both British and European law, including race- relations legislation.

The RFU also says it has acted with the blessing of other unions. "There was a chance that we could get a major part, if not the whole, of the Scotland and Ireland squads playing in England," Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, said yesterday. "That is considered very unsatisfactory by the Scottish and Irish Rugby Unions, so we are not alone in this."

None the less, the policy is completely at odds with the RFU's - and Dudley Wood's - often-stated desire to maintain rugby union as a recreation pursued by players in full-time employment, since it effectively prevents a decent Welsh or Scottish player seeking career advancement anywhere in England outside the South-east.

But as the restrictions will not apply to the exile clubs, this could be the best thing to have happened to London Irish, London Scottish and London Welsh in years and, as Jeavons-Fellows recognised yesterday, there would be nothing to stop the entire Ireland team decamping to Sunbury.

The RFU confirmed yesterday that England will play South Africa on 18 November, the first match to be played at the completed 75,000-capacity Twickenham, where work is running three weeks ahead of schedule. The official opening - the RFU hopes by the Queen - will probably not be until the Ireland match next March.

The team to play the Springboks will have a familiar look. Will Carling, the England captain, told a sportswriters' lunch yesterday that he expected all his players except Brian Moore to be playing on after the forthcoming World Cup, and none to be tempted by rugby league's Super League.

Bath will field 10 internationals in Saturday's Pilkington Cup final at Twickenham despite last night's selection, which has excluded three members of the World Cup squad, whose league rugby has lately been forcibly limited by England restrictions.

Steve Ojomoh has lost the open-side battle to Andy Robinson, but will come into the back row if John Hall's shoulder injury has not responded sufficiently to treatment by tomorrow. Also omitted are Graham Dawe and John Mallett, displaced in the front row by Gareth Adams and Kevin Yates.

The retiring Hall went off early during the defeat by Sale which brought his last home appearance to a dismal conclusion last Saturday and, as the omission of Dawe demonstrates, will not be able to rely on selectorial sentiment to grant him this final farewell. Wasps' team will be named tonight.

Bath (v Wasps, Pilkington Cup final, Twickenham, 6 May): J Callard; A Swift, P de Glanville, J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, I Sanders; K Yates, G Adams, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, J Hall (capt), B Clarke, A Robinson. Replacements: A Lumsden, R Butland, M Olsen, J Mallett, G Dawe, S Ojomoh.