Connolly flies in to lure Johnson back Down Under

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The Independent Online

John Connolly, the Australia head coach, was believed to be in Wales yesterday to try to persuade Wales' caretaker coach, Scott Johnson, to return home and become the Wallabies backs coach.

Johnson, 43, has said it will be family reasons that dictate what he does and he is known to have been under pressure from his teenage son, Jarrah, to return home.

Jarrah, whom Johnson left Down Under with a relative, has been phoning his father regularly, pleading with him to head back.

But Connolly's mission is twofold. He not only has to persuade Johnson to leave his adopted country after the Six Nations, but also agree a compensation deal with Bath to capture the forwards coach, Michael Foley.

Connolly was at his old stamping ground in Bath on Monday for talks centred around smoothing the way for Foley to return to Australia to take charge of the forwards. The former hooker had a similar role when Connolly was in charge at The Recreation Ground.

In addition to the gloomy prospect of losing Johnson, Wales fans learned yesterday that the outside-half Stephen Jones is doubtful for the match against Italy at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium a week on Saturday.

Jones limped off the Lansdowne Road pitch against Ireland with a "dead" leg after 20 minutes on Sunday and last night the Welsh team management said that he faces a "race against time" to shake off the "grade two" injury.

"I don't know if I'll be fit," Jones said. "I had a bump two weeks ago against Scotland and now I've had another in the same place against Ireland."

Jones is remaining in Wales to receive intensive treatment on the injury, having been granted permission to do so by his French club Clermont Auvergne.

Another club side who will be without a key player is Llanelli, who have been told by Wales that they can have eight of their nine internationals for Saturday's Powergen Cup semi-final against Bath, but their ninth, Dwayne Peel, is to be rested.

Peel injured an ankle in the first half in Dublin and although he played on Johnson does not want to risk the Lions scrum-half since cover for him is extremely inexperienced.

Italy yesterday named a 24-man squad for the Cardiff encounter with lock Santiago Dellape returning after injury.

The former Springbok lock Selborne Boome, who has been struggling with an Achilles problem yesterday left Northampton, but with the door still swinging after his departure Saints announced they had signed Connacht lock Christian Short for next season.