Rugby Union: Henry hopes for Jones-Hughes clearance

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The Independent Online
IT HAS taken the International Rugby Board an unconscionable amount of time to chew the fat; indeed, it has managed to miss its own deadline in respect of squad announcements for next month's World Cup. But, over the next 48 hours or so, it should at last be in a position to reveal whether Jason Jones-Hughes, the 22-year-old centre at the centre, you might say, of a tug of love between Wales and Australia, will be permitted to participate in the biggest tournament in the history of the game.

Jones-Hughes wants to play for Wales, the land of his recent ancestors, and has been named in Graham Henry's 30-man World Cup party. Unfortunately for him, the Wallabies also covet his services, seeing him as a prime candidate for the 2003 competition rather than a live candidate for this one. The Australians are citing his appearance for their second-string Barbarians outfit as evidence of ownership, the Welsh are causing a rare old stink and the IRB has been dithering ever since the issue arose several weeks ago.

However, all should be revealed either tomorrow evening or on Monday morning. If the Australians get their way and drag Jones-Hughes kicking and screaming back to Sydney - it is difficult to fathom what purpose that would serve, with all due respect to Rod Macqueen and company - Henry will have until Tuesday week to name a replacement. If, on the other hand, the player is given licence to swap his green and gold shirt for one of brightest red, the resurgent Welsh will be even more confident of making a World Cup splash in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, the poor bloody infantry attempting to fly the flag for Scottish club rugby received a seven-figure sweetener yesterday, just 24 hours before the start of their new Premiership campaign. British Telecom announced a pounds 1m sponsorship deal with the Scottish Rugby Union, to cover the next three years of domestic league and cup competition north of Hadrian's Wall.

The cash will be matched by the Scottish Rugby Union itself, which is something of a radical departure for an organisation that has traditionally fought shy of introducing prize money. "It's a boost we badly need," said Gordon Ross, the Heriot's FP goal-kicker who inspired his club to the Division One title last season. "Club rugby is talked down in these parts, so it's good to know that companies are putting money in."

For all the criticism aimed at the SRU in recent seasons, not least by club die-hards who objected to the establishment of the Glasgow Caledonians and Edinburgh Reivers super-district teams, yesterday's agreement could only be seen as a significant triumph of negotiation.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, has called up Joe Worsley, the 22- year-old uncapped flanker from Wasps, for the World Cup warm-up match with the Premiership All-Stars at Anfield on Tuesday night. Worsley replaces Richard Hill of Saracens who, Woodward said yesterday, was "in need of a rest". Martin Corry of Leicester comes in on the bench.

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