Elite clubs back England over training days

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The Independent Online

England's leading clubs last night made it clear that they are backing the national side by showing their willingness to extend the time their players are released for squad training.

At the same time they insisted that they remain opposed to central contracts. In a statement issued by Premier Rugby Limited, the representative body for the top flight, the clubs said: "PRL and the clubs have confirmed unanimously their opposition to any form of central contracting and reiterated that any RFU ownership in a club is prohibited under the Long Form Agreement."

However, the 12 Premiership clubs are willing to increase the number of release days for their Test players from the present 16 to 19 days. Prior to the 2003 World Cup, Clive Woodward had them for just eight days, although that went up to 18 days in the build-up to a triumphant tournament.

As for the vexed question of the RFU withholding the £120,000 compensation from Sale, Wasps and Leicester, because it is alleged they played their English Lions ahead of schedule, PRL said last night that it was optimistic of a compromise being worked out sooner rather than later.

Frank Hadden, Scotland's head coach of two weeks, yesterday named a 34-man training squad ahead of the autumn's internationals - Argentina (12 November), Samoa (20 November) and New Zealand (26 November).

The squad contain three uncapped players - all back rowers - Simon Cross, Paul Dearlove and Andy Miller, but the captaincy has yet to be discussed. Favourites for the leadership include Edinburgh's Chris Paterson and Glasgow No 8 Jon Petrie.

The New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu has claimed he is in negotiations with unnamed English clubs in an attempt to return to competitive rugby.

Lomu, 30, who had a kidney transplant last year and a shoulder operation this summer, said: "My shoulder's feeling good, but I have not been able to play for North Harbour because of it. I'm looking for regular rugby in the New Zealand off-season. We are talking to a couple of English clubs."