RUGBY UNION: Qualification period may be abolished

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The Independent Online


Twickenham is poised to abolish the 120-day qualification period which players in the top two divisions of the Courage League are obliged to serve when they register with a new club. A commission set up by the Rugby Football Union is due to publish its report at the end of the month and informed sources say that the four-month restriction could be abolished altogether.

That means Rob Andrew could be playing for Newcastle before Christmas. England stand-off half Andrew, who was appointed as Newcastle's director of rugby development three weeks ago, is serving out his time with Wasps and was not expected in the North-east until late in January.

But Newcastle are struggling near the bottom of the Second Division having won one match in their first five games and Andrew is eager to add his experience to the team in a bid to keep them out of the Third Division.

Suggestions that the qualification period was going to be abandoned have been rife and David Campbell, a director of Newcastle RFC Ltd, said yesterday: "The rumour is that the 120 days is going to be dropped at the end of this month."

Andrew promptly said: "If that is the case then I will immediately play for Newcastle, with whom I am registered." But England's outside-half may have to wait a little longer since the commission's report, which will also make recommendations about the lower divisions' 60-day period as well as discussing the moratorium on professionalism, has to go before the RFU's executive committee and then to the full committee.

The sticking point will be when the qualification period will be abandoned. There will be arguments to retain it until the end of the season, but realistically, if pressure is brought to bear and the RFU expedite things, the end of November could be the watershed when a torrent of players may well take advantage of a little piece of rugby history.

While Andrew has to commute from London to undertake his professional duties at Newcastle, the Gloucester captain, Dave Sims, will not have that problem. He turned professional yesterday when he was appointed full- time development officer. Gloucester's chief executive, Mike Coley, said: "We did not want to risk him being tempted by another club. It's the same as Rob Andrew going to Newcastle, although Dave is not on the same sort of money."

Bath have recalled the prop Victor Ubogu a week after dropping him for not being fit or committed enough. Ubogu has been been on an intensive week-long training programme.

Will Carling will miss Harlequins' trip to Sale in order to give his strained calf muscle another week's rest.