Rugby Union: Australians see red as Welsh advertise for players

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND SHOULD cruise past the 250-point mark for their quartet of World Cup warm-up matches when they take on the latest ragtag and bobtail batch of Premiership All-Stars at a third-full Twickenham tonight, but the real points scoring is taking place on the other side of the globe. The Wallabies, already in an advanced state of apoplexy over Jason Jones- Hughes' defection to Wales, went another shade of purple yesterday when their red-shirted foe started fishing for players in a rugby magazine.

John O'Neill, the increasingly exasperated chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union, shot straight from the hip after seeing a World Cup edition of his country's authoritative Rugby Review that contained a half-page advertisement booked and paid for by the Welsh hierarchy.

"They are absolute shockers," he gasped. "How bloody crass can you get? Is this what international rugby is about these days? It's a pattern of behaviour, this luring players from other countries, and it seems to going on across the United Kingdom and Ireland."

The offending advertisement featured Graham Henry, the New Zealander in charge of the Red Dragon Test squad, draped in a Welsh flag. The wording called on Australian players to check their family trees for Celtic ancestry and contained the telephone and fax numbers of the Welsh Rugby Union. If O'Neill was flabbergasted, he should not have been. The Welsh have made it perfectly plain ever since Henry joined them that they would scour the earth for international talent - hence the sudden appearance of Shane Howarth, Peter Rogers and Brett Sinkinson in material of deepest scarlet.

According to the Australians, the Jones-Hughes issue has a fair distance still to travel; some hardliners in the ARU want the International Rugby Board to impose a seven-figure compensation settlement on Wales. O'Neill was particularly short yesterday with those who accused the Wallabies of hypocrisy, on the grounds that their World Cup pack would include an Argentinian, Patricio Noriega, and a former Springbok, Tiaan Strauss. "Those players completed a three-year residency and have therefore done it by the book," said the chief executive. "Jones-Hughes is still under contract to us."

Back in the old-fashioned world of rugby selection, as opposed to rugby politics, the Wallabies called Tom Bowman, the New South Wales lock, into their World Cup squad following a late withdrawal by Brett Robinson, the ACT flanker and captain. Robinson failed a fitness test on a shoulder condition that has plagued him since July. Bowman faces strong competition from David Giffin for the right to partner the great John Eales next month.

Twickenham officials are hoping for a 25,000 gate for this evening's red rose proceedings, although they accept that a poor weather forecast and a rash of high profile cry-offs - including Will Carling, Francois Pienaar and Frank Bunce - may hit the turnstiles. Not that the England side will be concerned with the size of the crowd. For Martin Johnson and company, a ruthlessly professional victory and a zero injury count are all that matter.

"If you wondered whether you might get hurt, you'd never run onto a rugby field," said Johnson, when asked whether the prospect of a pulled hamstring or something worse might deter him from going full-tilt this evening. "Apart from anything else, any coach worth his salt would spot a player holding back for fear of injury. You can't have 14 blokes going about their business and one guy shirking his responsibilities. Rugby cannot work like that."

All the same, it will be a worry for Clive Woodward, the England coach. The Wallabies and Springboks have already been forced into changing their squads at short notice and Woodward would rather not have to follow suit.

ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); D Luger (Saracens), W Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), A Healey (Leicester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: D Rees (Bristol), M Catt (Bath), P Grayson (Northampton), M Corry (Leicester), V Ubogu (Bath), D Garforth (Leicester), P Greening (Sale).

PREMIERSHIP ALL STARS: L Nabaro (Bristol); J Keyter (Harlequins), A Murdoch (Bedford), R Eriksson (Bedford), N Woods (London Irish); T Lacroix (Saracens), K Putt (London Irish); D Barnes (Harlequins), M Regan (Bath), J White (Saracens), W Waugh (Bath), G Morgan (Harlequins), B Sturnham (Bath), R Jenkins (Harlequins), T Diprose (Saracens, capt). Replacements: C McMullen (Bristol), B Whetstone (London Irish), B Daniel (Harlequins), S Vile (Bristol), A Gomarsall (Bedford), P Ogilvie (Saracens), R Strudwick (London Irish), P Lemoine (Bristol), A Long (Bath).