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Hansen voices fear on exodus.

Byline: RUGBY UNION By ANDREW BALDOCK

WALES coach Steve Hansen last night voiced grave concerns about a potential exodus of top players to England next season.

Welsh rugby is currently in the middle of an endless dispute about the way forward for its professional game.

Although regional teams have been given the seal of approval by Wales' member clubs, there is still no breakthrough on either the number of sides or how they will be structured.

Swansea last week announced their intention to go into temporary administration, a situation which is likely to mean several of their leading names departing to ply their trade elsewhere.

``It is a major worry for Welsh rugby,'' said Hansen last night,as he left with his squad for a three-day training camp in west Wales.

``Some of these clubs have got to realise their players are on the shopping list. For instance, a lot of people are very keen on Stephen Jones and Martyn Madden at Llanelli. ``The players have had enough. They want to be better and they want to get a better environment - they want the same environment as the Brian O'Driscolls of this world.

``The players feel as if they have been let down by the union and the clubs. If the union and the clubs cannot come together then the players will go somewhere else,and all our quality players will be playing in England.

``A lot of players in this team are frustrated at not having the environment to make them better players,and I can't disagree with that too much.''

Against that backdrop,Hansen must prepare his squad for the daunting challenge of trying to halt an Ireland team currently chasing the RBS Six Nations Championship title and a possible Grand Slam.

Ireland arrive in Cardiff on Saturday - where they have not lost for 20 years - knowing a fourth successive tournament victory would leave them one win away from a clean sweep.

Wales are struggling after successive Six Nations championship defeats against Italy,England and Scotland. And the injury list which has followed Hansen throughout the championship still means he is without the likes of hooker Robin McBryde,centre Sonny Parker and the latest casualty in full-back Kevin Morgan, who suffered a serious knee problem during the Scotland clash eight days ago.

There is better news, though,about hooker Jonathan Humphreys who was recalled as captain against England but then suffered a shoulder injury and missed the Scotland game.

Humphreys missed his club Bath's Zurich Premiership weekend fixture against Northampton,but the player himself said he was ``100 per cent confident'' of recovering in time.

If Humphreys does not make it then Hansen is ready to spring a major surprise among his replacements for the Ireland Test. Huw Bennett, a 19- year old hooker on Swansea's books, is set to provide cover for Pontypridd's experienced Mefin Davies.

Although Bennett is a total novice in international rugby terms Hansen has no doubt about his ability.

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Wales coach Steve Hansen ponders the sport's woes
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Mar 17, 2003
Words:506
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