Rowell dismisses threat of circus

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The Independent Online
Just when Jack Rowell thought he at last had his England preparation right - no league matches over the weekend, so no aches and pains - Ross Turnbull, the Australian jack-in-the-box, pops up again to give him and his players an unwelcome distraction before they play Western Samoa next SaturdayUnwelcome, at any rate, for the England manager as he put the team through their paces at a fogbound Twickenham yesterday. Players apparently offered pounds 200,000 a year to play in Turnbull's mainly-summer circus might view it differently, since the latest official figure on England squad earnings is pounds 38,000 a season each.

"This is not in the long-term interests of the England rugby game," Rowell, himself recently professionalised by the Rugby Football Union, pronounced. "I think if it takes off it will be transient - and where that will leave players who become involved is something nobody knows.

"The sums are attractive but rugby union now doesn't need circuses. After the initial interest I can see an evaporation." By way of a warning, it was Turnbull who fronted the doomed attempt by Kerry Packer to take over international rugby this summer.

Turnbull, who won one cap at prop for Australia, has been circulating for a couple of months trying to attract enough decent players to establish an alternative European tournament based on newly created city-based teams, even though these would command little or no public loyalty.

The sums involved are either fantastic or fantasy - one estimate is that Turnbull needs pounds 60m for starters - but it is claimed 19 Leicester players and a host of others have signed declarations of intent. One of the Welshmen who has signed a registration form for an English club warned his future employers when he did so he had also signed for Turnbull.

The Turnbull agreements cannot be binding, which is just as well with Turnbull supposed to come through with down-payments by Friday. Meanwhile Bill Bishop, the RFU president, says the union has no further funds with which to compete in this marketplace. Helpfully for Bishop, Will Carling's agent, Jonathan Holmes, says the England captain has rejected Turnbull out of hand.

England's only pre-match casualty occurred during yesterday's session, Mark Regan twist- ing an ankle at the end of scrummaging practice against the Richmond pack. His fitness is said not to be in doubt, but Graham Dawe would take his place if necessary.

n Geoff Evans resigned yesterday as Wales manager after Kevin Bowring's appointment as national coach. Derek Quinnell will be temporary team co- ordinator.

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