Rugby Union: Woodward alerted to Watford man

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By Chris Hewett

IF CLIVE Woodward's summer pilgrimage to the great cathedrals of southern hemisphere rugby left him in serious need of spiritual salvation, help may be at hand. According to Saracens, the reigning knock-out champions, who launched their Allied Dunbar Premiership campaign in such impressive style on Sunday, Jeremy Thomson will prove nothing short of a Godsend to England's coach as he prepares for this autumn's testing international business.

The way the Londoners see it, Thomson, the most exciting South African centre in Super 12 rugby as recently as two seasons ago, has every credential Woodward could wish for, not least a mother from Watford who makes good his English qualification. "He's an outstanding talent and I'll be amazed if it he doesn't make it into Clive's squad in next to no time," pronounced Mark Evans, the Saracens director of rugby, yesterday.

Thomson put a debut Premiership try past Northampton at Vicarage Road and generally made light of Philippe Sella's retirement at the end of last season. Woodward was duly impressed - "I thought he played pretty well," he agreed - and, given England's glaring shortage of midfield back- up during their catastrophic voyage across the equator, his arrival from Natal could hardly be more timely.

Woodward will name his first squad early next month and it is likely to be restricted to the cream of the crop. "Our first internationals are the World Cup qualifiers with Holland and Italy and we have to operate within tournament rules, so I'll be working with 26 players for both matches," said the coach. "But then we go into the heavy duty stuff against Australia and South Africa, so there is some flexibility. It's going to be fascinating to see who comes through in the early stages of the Premiership."

Meanwhile, the great and the good of the Six Nations committee met at Heathrow yesterday. They were not, apparently, organising a mass escape from those who accuse the game's discredited politicians of a near fatal lack of leadership. Rather, they were engaged in the first serious top- level attempt to restructure the European game in the best interests of those who really matter: the players and the supporters.

Allan Hosie, the former international referee who represents Scotland on the International Rugby Board executive, called the get-together in the wake of last month's pitched battle over the formation of a British League. The committee plans to discuss its plans publicly tomorrow, although Vernon Pugh, the IRB chairman widely blamed for spiking the British League idea, will not be present. He was flying to Kuala Lumpur today for the Commonwealth Games sevens tournament.

If a cross-border competition does manage to stagger to its feet in the near future, Hosie's colleagues in Scotland may attempt to sell off their two so-called super districts, Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow Caledonians. "In a new set-up, with 20 games a season against top quality opposition, they could become a very attractive proposition," said Duncan Paterson, the Scottish Rugby Union chairman. "Personally, I think the SRU has enough to do running its national sides. The money we currently spend on Glasgow and Edinburgh could be better spread around our clubs."

South Africa, the world champions and current Tri-Nations top dogs, will play eight games, including Tests against all four home nations, during their tour of Britain and Ireland in November and December. They start their programme against Glasgow Caledonians at the Firhill Stadium on 10 November, play Wales at Wembley four days later and finish against England at Twickenham on 5 December.