Coventry bubbling as Brooke signs up

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Zinzan Brooke's first attempt to waken a sleeping English giant was a conspicuous failure – so conspicuous, indeed, that his departure from Harlequins last winter led to an upturn in fortunes that resulted in the Londoners featuring in two cup finals, winning the European Shield and ending their campaign with a lucrative place among this season's Heineken Cup élite. None of which has prevented a second slumbering rugby monolith from tempting the former All Black out of retirement.

A quarter of a century or so ago, Coventry were a very serious item in domestic rugby; a club so blessed with home-grown talent that they provided five of the players – Peter Rossborough, David Duckham, Geoff Evans, Peter Preece and Fran Cotton – who helped England to their first and only Test victory in New Zealand, a 16-10 win in Auckland in 1973. It is a sweet irony that Brooke, one of the great All Black No 8s, should now be interested in breathing new life into a club fallen on hard times.

Keith Fairbrother, the former England prop who now controls Coventry's affairs, confirmed yesterday that Brooke was close to agreeing a deal.

"Everything has been sorted out, and I don't anticipate any problems," said Fairbrother, who expects Brooke to put pen to paper today. "This is a massive signing for us, one that shows our intention to compete at the highest level. Zinzan has had a year away from the game, but his appetite is back. He has to get himself match fit and prove himself worthy of a place – those are his words. His first aim is to make his mark on the squad and gain their respect."

Fairbrother said that while Brooke was signing up for active duty, he would "have an input in other areas". This reference to a coaching role indicated that the 36-year-old from Waiuku would be given a free hand to restore Coventry's top-flight status, which they lost in 1988. The Midlanders, seventh in National League One but in reasonable touch with the pace-setters, have not had a full-time coach since they sacked the former Springbok Harry Roberts three games into last season.

Brooke achieved many things during his long stint as an international, but invisibility was not one of them. This is the one thing Andrew Walker, the Wallaby wing, may have over his illustrious fellow Antipodean. Walker, dropped from last summer's Tri-Nations Test with South Africa for leaving the camp without permission, went AWOL again yesterday and is likely to be omitted from the seven-match tour of Europe, assuming it goes ahead.

"We have suspended Andrew from the team, and until we actually talk to him and find out what's going on, he'll remain suspended," said Eddie Jones, the Wallaby coach, who confirmed that Walker had missed a training session and then disappeared from the camp at Coffs Harbour, on the New South Wales coast. "We just can't have guys not following the rules – like any team, we revolve around being a disciplined unit. It's fairly unlikely Andrew will tour, unless he can come up with a pretty good reason as to why he missed training."

Walker's previous escapade – an unsanctioned visit to his pregnant wife and their three children during the build-up to the Springbok game in Perth – resulted in his issuing the humblest of apologies. This time, an apology may not go far enough.

* The RFU has changed the date for the hearing of the Bristol coach, Dean Ryan, at his request. Ryan has been called to account for the comments attributed to him about referee Tim Miller after the 16 September game against London Irish. The hearing will now be held at Twickenham on 24 October.

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