Gloucester sign up five to ease pain of Freddie Burns’ impending exit

Wales centre Jonathan Davies is set to miss the Six Nations

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The Independent Online

Nigel Davies has been looking more than a little exasperated just lately with the kerfuffle over the future of his star outside-half, Freddie Burns, continuing unabated, but the Gloucester rugby director broke into a smile on Thursday after talking five important players, including two England wings and one of the country’s brightest second-row prospects, into staying at Kingsholm.

Charlie Sharples, James Simpson-Daniel and the 20-year-old Elliott Stooke all agreed fresh terms, as did the energetic hooker Darren Dawidiuk and the locally grown prop Shaun Knight.

Taken together with the big-money signings of two international front-rowers, Richard Hibbard of Wales and John Afoa of New Zealand, it was a big step forward for Davies, who has resigned himself to losing Burns to Leicester at the end of the season.

Sources at Gloucester have indicated that the club removed a generous new contract from the negotiating table after giving him numerous opportunities to re-commit himself.

Exeter also chimed in with some contract extensions, the most notable of which was signed by the England flanker Tom Johnson, who will stay at Sandy Park for another three years, while Worcester, 10 points adrift at the foot of the Premiership table, were said to have secured the services of Cardiff back-rower Andries Pretorius for next term.

Pretorius, a South African who qualifies for Wales on residency grounds and made his Test debut in Japan last summer, is the latest player to escape the escalating civil war on the far side of the Severn Bridge between the Welsh Rugby Union and its four regional teams, who have refused to enter into a new participation agreement with the governing body while the row over the Heineken Cup rumbles on.

Needless to say, there were more political manoeuvrings on Thursday, with the leading English clubs throwing their support behind the Welsh regions, who are backing the establishment of a new pan-European tournament – the Rugby Champions Cup.

“We believe this is clearly the best solution,” said Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby. “It will deliver more matches between the top teams, as decided on merit, and... generate the financial returns to ensure continued strong investment in the club game.”

One of the many front-line Welsh players seeking career security elsewhere, the Lions centre Jonathan Davies, is unlikely to take any part in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. Davies, who will leave Scarlets for Clermont Auvergne in the summer, is back in training after damaging a pectoral muscle during the autumn but is not expected to resume club duty until early March, which would leave him insufficient time to play for an international spot.