Kefu considers contract in Japan

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The Independent Online

The Australia forward Toutai Kefu, who is in Cardiff for Sunday's game against Wales, has been offered £650,000 to miss the next World Cup and play in Japan for three years.

The contract would make the Tongan-born Kefu the highest-paid player in Australian rugby. Only three weeks ago Kefu admitted that he had turned down lucrative overseas offers after his father had made an impassioned plea for him to stay with Australia at least until the end of the 2003 World Cup.

Kefu, 27, is the most effective forward in the Wallaby pack and losing him would be a serious blow to the plans of the Australia coach, Eddie Jones, to cement his side's place at the top of the world game in the next 24 months.

The Saracens centre Ben Johnston will make his latest comeback from injury in tonight's Zurich Premiership game against London Irish at Vicarage Road. Johnston, who would have toured North America with England this summer had it not been for a knee ligament problem that required surgery, has missed Saracens' last eight games. The 23-year-old underwent a hernia operation, but has now been given the all-clear to resume playing.

The Saracens coach, Francois Pienaar, anxious that his side bounces back after their 43-6 league defeat at Harlequins last Friday, fields Johnston in midfield alongside Kevin Sorrell, with Tim Horan still out injured.

Two changes in the front five see the loose-head prop Luke Harbut preferred to David Flatman, who is among the substitutes, together with the lock Kieran Roche, who is replaced by Stuart Hooper. International commitments again force out the England pair Kyran Bracken and Richard Hill, together with the Scotland lock Scott Murray.

Irish make four changes – all up front – following a crushing 48-12 success against struggling Northampton last time out. The Irish player-coach, Brendan Venter, again rotates his front row, fielding Mike Worsley, Naka Drotske and Simon Halford, while the Irish international flanker Kieron Dawson takes over from Declan Danaher. An Irish victory would put them second in the table, while Saracens know they can move from eighth to fifth if they win and secure a bonus point.

The Zurich Premiership strugglers Wasps have suffered another injury setback before Friday night's league trip to Gloucester. The England international Paul Sampson will miss the Kingsholm game after entering hospital yesterday for exploratory surgery on an ankle ligament problem.

Sampson, normally a wing, had been playing at full-back while Josh Lewsey continues his recovery from a fractured cheekbone. Lewsey is not expected to return for another month. The Wasps director of rugby, Nigel Melville, has now made an enforced switch, moving Alex King's fly-half deputy, Matt Leek, to the No 15 position.

Sampson's absence apart, Wasps are unchanged from the side that ended a run of six successive Premiership defeats by crushing Leeds 64-14 at Loftus Road last weekend.

The internationals Craig Dowd, Phil Greening, Simon Shaw and Ian Jones all feature in the pack as Wasps target a victory over a side five places and 10 points above them.

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