Paul commits to Gloucester for three years

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The Independent Online

Henry Paul, one of the two or three finest players in England not to be considered an automatic selection for the international team, has signed a new long-term contract with Gloucester - a development that should guarantee the New Zealand-born centre's canonisation at Kingsholm, as well as more ructions with the Rugby Football Union over national seven-a-side availability.

Henry Paul, one of the two or three finest players in England not to be considered an automatic selection for the international team, has signed a new long-term contract with Gloucester - a development that should guarantee the New Zealand-born centre's canonisation at Kingsholm, as well as more ructions with the Rugby Football Union over national seven-a-side availability.

Paul, controversially withheld from the squad that retained the Hong Kong Sevens title last month, will remain at the club until the end of the 2006-2007 campaign, at which point he is likely to call it a day.

"It is a big thing to say, but this deal means I will see out my career here," the former rugby league international confirmed yesterday. Paul's midfield partner and fellow Antipodean, the ex-New South Wales outside-half Duncan McRae, has also agreed fresh terms and will stay at Gloucester for another two seasons.

Nigel Melville, the director of rugby at Kingsholm, was understandably relieved at the agreements - especially as Paul, whose move from league and initial union salary was partly financed by Twickenham, is now owned lock, stock and barrel by Gloucester. "These are massive moves for the club," said Melville, grateful for a good-news day in advance of this weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final visit to Wasps. "Last season, our build-up to the Premiership final was not helped by the fact that we had to tell eight players they were no longer required. It's nice to be talking about something positive this time."

Paul has suffered his share of trials and tribulations since crossing codes in 2001; indeed, his first coach at Kingsholm, Philippe Saint-André, once asserted that he was paid "to prepare a rugby team, not to teach one individual how to play union". But since moving to inside centre and sharpening up his goal-kicking, he has been of incalculable value.

Another thirtysomething midfielder, Paul Grayson of Northampton, has also put pen to paper over the last 36 hours. The England stand-off will stay at Franklin's Gardens for another season, having declined an offer from Newcastle. "My heart is in Northampton and always has been," he said. "It was always my intention to stay on."

Meanwhile, Leicester are expected to announce details of a restructured back-room team soon. The Tigers have been operating under a caretaker regime since parting company with Dean Richards, their director of rugby, in February, with Peter Wheeler, their chief executive, heading up an operation in which John Wells and Neil Back shouldered increased responsibility and Martin Johnson was re-appointed to the captaincy.

Many names have been linked with a move to Welford Road over the last two months but the latest hot money is on Wheeler continuing in a hands-on role, with Pat Howard, the former Wallaby centre who spent three productive seasons in the Leicester midfield, as backs coach.

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