Rugby Union: Walkinshaw walks in

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The Independent Online
Tom Walkinshaw may not be much of a singer, but he certainly knows how to bring the Hills alive with the sweet sound of booming bank accounts. A year after purchasing a controlling interest in the Arrows Formula One team and luring Damon Hill as his top-line driver, Walkinshaw yesterday presented Richard Hill with the financial clout to turn Gloucester into one of the most powerful outfits in English rugby.

The 50-year-old former European Saloon Car Champion pledged an undisclosed sum, thought to be around pounds 2.5m, to the West Countrymen after almost five months of negotiations with the Kingsholm management. Yesterday's announcement not only brought to an end weeks of speculation, but also signalled an outbreak of feverish activity on the transfer front, with Hill, the director of rugby, predicting signings of at least two international players to complement the arrival of Philippe Saint-Andre, the former French captain, who agreed a move from Montferrand last week.

"We are already the best club in England, now we want to be the most successful," said David Foyle, the Gloucester chairman, who described Walkinshaw as a "genuine rugby man". Hill, meanwhile, predicted that Walkinshaw's cash would not only give him some much-needed muscle in the marketplace but also enable him to keep his existing talent under lock and key - in particular, the four youngsters who have made such a big impact on the notoriously critical inhabitants of the Kingsholm Shed: Chris Catling, Mark Mapletoft, Scott Benton and, Phil Greening, the twice-capped England hooker.

For his part, Walkinshaw insisted that his buy-up of just over 70 per cent of the Gloucester business was a long-term investment rather than a fly-by-night infatuation. "I played rugby at school and although I gave up the game when a broken ankle interfered with my motor racing, I've always maintained my links and regard it as my number two sporting interest," he said.

With a business empire encompassing more than 30 companies and an annual turnover approaching pounds 300m, he might even stump up a few shillings for a fleet of team cars. Greening and his front-row henchmen should cut quite a dash in a Cherry and White Arrows.

There was good news of a different flavour at Northampton yesterday when both Neil Jenkins, the Welsh full-back, and Paul Grayson, the England stand-off, declared themselves fit for the Lions trip to South Africa. Given that they are the only recognised front-line goal-kickers in the party, the sighs of relief were almost deafening.

Jenkins was scheduled to undergo a second X-ray today on a broken bone in his left forearm, but the Pontypridd captain regarded it as nothing more than a formality. "I'm still wearing some soft protective padding, but I don't foresee any problems," he said.

Grayson, ruled out of all rugby for the last two months by a groin condition, was also confident of proving his fitness in good time for the flight out on 17 May. He played a full part in yesterday's kicking session at Franklins Gardens and hopes to be available for Northampton's closing league match with Gloucester this weekend.

The money men

BATH: Andrew Brownsword, greeting cards millionaire. Personal fortune pounds 170m

BEDFORD: Frank Warren, has added rugby to boxing interests

HARLEQUINS: John and Peter Beckwith, head Riverside plc. NEC sponsorship also worth pounds 1.5m

LONDON SCOTTISH: Tony Tiarks, club supporter based in Monte Carlo

NEWCASTLE: Sir John Hall, the Mr Big of sport on Tyneside

NORTHAMPTON: Newspaper millionaire Keith Barwell

RICHMOND: Financier Ashley Levett - has bankrolled major signings, including Ben Clarke and Scott Quinnell

SARACENS: Nigel Wray, owner of the London-based Trocadero leisure complex

WASPS: Chris Wright, owner of Chrysalis Records