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Wales could be without England-based players against Australia next month

Published 18/10/2016

Wales interim head coach Rob Howley has named his squad for this season's autumn Tests
Wales interim head coach Rob Howley has named his squad for this season's autumn Tests

Wales and Premiership Rugby could be on a collision course over the availability of England-based players for next month's opening autumn Test against Australia.

Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley has revealed that Northampton wing George North and Harlequins centre Jamie Roberts have told him they will be available to face the Wallabies in Cardiff on November 5.

But Premiership Rugby - umbrella organisation for England's 12 Aviva Premiership clubs - do not release non-England players who ply their trade in the Premiership for Tests that fall outside World Rugby's autumn international window.

The Australia game is outside of that official three-weekend slot - Wales also face Argentina, Japan and South Africa next month - and Press Association Sport understands that Premiership Rugby's policy is unchanged.

It could be that North and Roberts have full release written into their club contracts for autumn Tests, although Northampton were fined £60,000 in 2013 when they released North for an out-of-window Test against Australia. He has subsequently signed a new Saints deal.

"We've had no formal conversations with any of the English clubs, but having spoken to the players, they are available to play," Howley said.

"Some of them are available for the Australia game, and we will have to make sure we pick from the availability.

"The players who I have spoken to are the likes of Jamie, George and Toby (Taulupe Faletau). Toby is injured, but Jamie and George, as far as we are concerned having spoken to them, are available for the Australia game.

"There has been no formal communication between ourselves and PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited)."

It is unclear whether other Premiership-based players announced by Howley on Tuesday in a 36-man autumn Test squad - Bath lock Luke Charteris, Exeter prop Tomas Francis and Gloucester back-row forward Ross Moriarty - might be available to face Australia.

Press Association Sport has contacted Premiership Rugby for comment.

Uncapped Ospreys pair Sam Davies and Rory Thornton, meanwhile, have been named in the autumn squad, with North, Roberts and Faletau being Howley's permitted three wildcard selections from a current list of seven players affected by the Welsh Rugby Union's new senior player selection policy covering players based outside Wales.

A maximum of three players can be chosen for any one campaign in a season, with Bath fly-half Rhys Priestland the highest prolfile absentee this time around.

Faletau is currently recovering from knee trouble, but he could be available for the latter part of Wales' autumn series, while Toulon full-back Leigh Halfpenny is recalled 13 months after his last game for Wales, which resulted in him suffering a serious knee injury that ruled him out of last season's World Cup and Six Nations.

The squad includes a further seven players who did not feature for Wales on their summer tour to New Zealand, including a return from injury of Cardiff Blu es wing Alex Cuthbert and Ospreys flanker Dan Lydiate.

Skipper Sam Warburton, meanwhile, could make his return to action from a cheekbone injury when Cardiff Blues continue their European Challenge Cup campaign against French side Pau later this week.

Reflecting on 23-year-old fly-half Davies' call-up, Howley added: "He is a player in form. I have been impresed with him in the early parts of the season.

"I am looking forward to working with him. He is a player in form, and it is important you pick players in form.

"The other two 10s (Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe) are pretty experienced. Dan is probably edging the number one 10 position. He is a big-match player - he certainly played well in the first two Tests in New Zealand in June.

" While Toby isn't fit, his experience will be invaluable to those players who are playing. It gives the opportunity for him to spend time with the other back-rowers.

"We have been impressed with Dan Baker; James King has played against the Chiefs in the summer and Ross Moriarty can step up. Opportunity knocks in training, and that is the key message for that number eight position."

Wales have lost their last 11 games against Australia, although six of those defeats were by five points or less, as Howley prepares for a testing season opener in a campaign that will see him at the helm while Warren Gatland concentrates on British and Irish Lions business building towards next summer's New Zealand tour.

Press Association

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