Injuries force Premiership to push for larger squads

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The Independent Online

With concern growing for the health and safety of players it has emerged that Premier Rugby Limited, who represent the 12 Premiership clubs, is to ask the organisers of the Heineken Cup to allow larger squads from next season.

With concern growing for the health and safety of players it has emerged that Premier Rugby Limited, who represent the 12 Premiership clubs, is to ask the organisers of the Heineken Cup to allow larger squads from next season.

A sharp rise in injuries this season, which saw Bath (twice) and Newcastle (once) unable to field full 22-man match day squads, has persuaded PRL to stump up £250,000 more from next season to encourage English clubs to increase their squads to 40.

And Howard Thomas, the chief executive of PRL has now revealed: "We will be talking to ERC [European Rugby Cup] about increasing the number of registered players that clubs are allowed to nominate for European competition, possibly up to 40." At present the limit of players registered for Europe is 34, which many coaches feel is far too low and some even question why there should be a limit.

This season, John Connolly, of Bath, frequently struggled to find enough specialist players as his squad was hit by serious injury. To date Bath can boast a full XV of such crocks - the latest being flanker Andy Beattie, who it was discovered yesterday, has suffered a broken leg and severely damaged ankle ligaments which will rule him out for the rest of the season.

Northampton, who have reported a half-year profit to 30 November of £234,879, learned yesterday that wing John Clarke needs a groin operation and he, too, will not play again this season. But there are fears that the extra £250,000 from PRL will merely be used to bump up the salaries of big earners in club squads and there were calls yesterday to ensure that does not happen.

The salary cap will be increased to a shade over £2m for next season and the extra quarter of a million will take the total available to spend on players to £2.3m.

Bath, Newcastle and Wasps announced new signings yesterday. Bath dipped further into this year's salary cap by signing the former Italy fly-half Ramiro Pez from Leicester until the end of the season. Falcons spent some of next season's on a two-year deal for the 51-cap Wallaby forward Owen Finegan, 32, who has played at lock and in the back row.

Wasps snapped up the winger Joseph Mbu from Harlequins on a deal until the end of next season. The Italy coach, John Kirwan, has called up the Treviso flanker Silvio Orlando for the injured Mauro Bergamasco, while the Montpellier centre Cristian Stoica has been recalled to the squad preparing for the match against Scotland at Murrayfield in 10 days' time.

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