Rugby Union: Five Nations plan backed

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WALES yesterday threw their weight behind England's long- standing advocacy of a later Five Nations' Championship. It is a decade since the Rugby Football Union first proposed a later start to the championship and pragmatism rather than principle has finally dictated Welsh support.

With agreement imminent to leave pre-Five Nations weekends clear of Heineken League fixtures, the Welsh Rugby Union has to find a way to accommodate its competitive programme. Originally, it was the January weather that motivated the RFU but now league rugby impinges, as it does in Wales, since next season Courage Championship games will increase from 12 to 18.

John Powell, the WRU competitions chairman, thinks the RFU wants to play the internationals in March and April, whereas in fact the paper drawn up a decade ago by Dudley Wood, now the RFU secretary, called only for a three- week delay. England received no support at the time, opposition being strongest from the French, who have the latter stages of their domestic championship to consider.

Those England players who miss out on the Lions tour to New Zealand in the summer can cross the United States off their visiting list. The USA Rugby Union is so strapped for cash that it has cancelled its leg of England's north American tour in May and June. So what had been intended as an eight-match tour including two non-cap Tests against Canada and one against the US will now be abridged to five or six matches, all north of the 49th parallel.

The England selectors yesterday announced a 19-man training squad for the World Sevens at Murrayfield in April - an event so low on English priorities that they will not participate in any more tournaments before then, whereas the Scots will be going on a world sevens tour. The personnel will also be deliberately low-key a month before the Lions leave: Tim Rodber is the only current England squad member in the party, who will have three training weekends before being cut to 10 players for the tournament.

ENGLAND SQUAD (World Sevens, Murrayfield, 16-18 April): Backs: M Dawson, N Beal (both Northampton), A Harriman (Harlequins), D Scully (Wakefield), P Hull, K Bracken (both Bristol), A Adebeyo (Bath), D O'Leary (Saracens), R Knibbs (Bristol), D Hopley (Wasps). Forwards: M Haag (Bath), C Sheasby (Harlequins), L Dallaglio (Wasps), M Rennell (Bedford), N Back (Leicester), J Cassell (Saracens), S Ojomoh (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), G Adams (Bath). Manager: P Rossborough. Coach: L Cusworth.