Rugby Union: Wood promises 12-month bans

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LEADING English players who switch clubs after the end of this season can expect to have plenty of spare time on their hands during the subsequent 12 months, writes Paul Trow.

Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, confirmed yesterday that plans were afoot to extend the suspension period from competitive club matches from four months to a full year.

The aim is to discourage players from moving for inducements, and Wood said: 'A simple statement to all clubs about what is allowed could prevent contravention of the regulations. But 12 months does seem the right period. We have had allegations about inducements, which are undoubtedly true. But we can never get the evidence and the method of combating players switching clubs for inducements is by changing the regulations.

'Unless you deal with it, you lose control and your game becomes semi-professional or professional. However, a lot is going on to produce the right sort of recipe so that the results on the pitch are not decided by the size of individual clubs' cheque books.'

Wood said that there would be discretionary dispensations, presumably for players who move for work reasons, but he admitted that the RFU would have no jurisdiction over a club supporter rewarding a famous player with a car or even cash on an unofficial basis.

Meanwhile, the RFU's own finances have grown, possibly by as much as pounds 1.5m, as a result of the four big games in England this season. The international against South Africa yielded more than pounds 1m and the RFU also took a share of the receipts from the Barbarians' game against the Wallabies, the University Match and England's meeting with Canada at Wembley.

Will Carling, the England captain who has just returned from holiday in the Far East, has failed to dislodge either of London's centres, Fran Clough or Damian Hopley, for the ADT Divisional Championship match against the North at Harlequins on Saturday. The North give debuts to John Fletcher, the Tynedale centre, and the West Hartlepool flanker, Alan Brown.

Martin Bayfield, the England lock, will have a fitness test on a shoulder injury before the Midlands' face the South-West at Leicester. Steve Hackney, the home club's wing, is also a doubtful starter with a twisted knee.

Robert Jones, the Swansea scrum-half, is out of the West Wales side to meet East Wales in Cardiff on 28 December because of a torn hamstring. Rob Howley, of Bridgend, is his likely replacement.