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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT

Sport: Rugby Union

Wage cap threatens Lomu signing

Jonah Lomu: The battle for his signature is hotting up

The bidding war to sign New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu is hotting up - but salary restrictions in English rugby may mean clubs are unable to meet his wage demands.

Four clubs are currently vying for the services of the giant All Black - Bristol, London Irish and rugby league outfits Wakefield and Leeds Rhinos

English First Division Rugby's Rugby Howard Thomas: "The sanctions are high for clubs that breach the cap"
Bristol lead the pack, reportedly having tabled a £1.1m two-year deal to woo Lomu away from New Zealand.

The club insist their offer does not breach a £1.8m wage bill cap enforced by the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

Bristol coach Bob Dwyer: "He's the only attacking player in the world that terrifies defences"
Clubs face fines of £3 for every £1 they exceed the cap and a ban from European competition if the excess is more than £100,000.

Clubs often get round the cap by setting up sponsorship and marketing payments - which go straight to the player not the club and are therefore not included in the wage bill.

Some cycnics believe the bidding war is being stoked by Lomu's camp in an attempt to encourage the New Zealand Rugby Union to raise their offer.

[ image: Lomu could find himself playing alongside South African Henry Honiball if Bristol get their way]
Lomu could find himself playing alongside South African Henry Honiball if Bristol get their way
The NZRU does not allow players who ply their trade outside New Zealand to play for the All Blacks.

Lomu has still to fulfill his primary ambition of picking up a World Cup winners medal.

But such is Lomu's talent, English clubs are prepared to stretch their finances to the limit to persuade him to leave his homeland.

London Irish coach Dick Best has confirmed he has made a formal offer for Lomu during "tentative" talks with the player's agent, Phil Kingsley-Jones.

Irish coach Dick Best: "A decision will be made fairly shorly"
"We are always exploring possibilities and we have made an offer to bring Jonah to London Irish," Best said.

"We will have to see what happens but we have made a financial offer to him and we are hoping to talk again."

Bristol, however, say they are confident a deal with Lomu could be tied up by the end of the week.

Bristol in the hunt

Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol, Bristol chief executive Nick de Scossa confirmed that the club had been in discussions with the player.

"We had a long meeting with the player on Saturday to put forward our proposals and we are awaiting a decision from his management," De Scossa said.

"I presume that they've had talks with a number of clubs as well as Bristol because Lomu is a very marketable commodity at this moment.

"What his management have said to us is that they are looking at more than just money. It is about the lifestyle that the player can expect, where he might live and what sort of club he would be joining and about the owner's knowledge of the game."

The club are unwilling to discuss what terms have been offered to Lomu but have stressed that it would be on a par with those paid to some of their other stars such as Springbok Henry Honiball and Puma Agustin Pichot.

"The package that we have tabled stays within the £1.8m salary cap. It doesn't involve employing his agent or the agent's wife as one paper suggested," De Scossa said.

"Lomu is a very marketable person at the moment and it is up to his management to secure other deals with sponsors and the monies from that would go directly to the player and not the club.

"Other clubs are pitching in for the player but one thing that we have sold to him is the rugby tradition of the Bristol club and the ways that we are trying to re-ignite the enthusiasm for the game at the Memorial Stadium."

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