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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Monday, 24 November 2008

Cooper released for Wales clash

Venue: Millennium Stadium Date: Saturday, 29 November Kick-off: 1430 GMT Coverage: Watch live on BBC One Wales & online, listen to live commentary on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports and live text commentary online

Gareth Cooper prepares for Gloucester's game with Saracens
Gareth Cooper has won 38 Wales caps since his debut against Italy in 2001

Wales' scrum-half crisis for Saturday's final autumn Test with Australia has been resolved as Gloucester have released Gareth Cooper to play.

The Wallabies clash in Cardiff on 29 November is outside the International Rugby Board window for autumn Tests.

Cooper and Sale Sharks star Dwayne Peel had been at the centre of club v country row as English Premiership clubs initially refused their release.

But Gloucester have agreed with the Welsh Rugby Union to free Cooper.

Wales coach Warren Gatland picked Cooper ahead of Peel for their autumn international games against South Africa and New Zealand.

Now the 29-year-old can continue to establish his position as Wales' number one scrum-half rather than playing for Gloucester against Northampton next weekend.

Copper's availability is also a relief for Wales for another reason, team manager Alan Phillips revealing back-up squad scrum-half Martin Roberts had a groin problem last week.

Phillips said: "It's terrific news for us because we've got a young scrum-half as our other choice who's had injury last week, a bit of a groin problem."

Cooper was released after discussions involving Gloucester, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

There had been an issue over the availability of England-based Wales players since Premier Rugby Limited, the umbrella body that represents the Guinness Premiership clubs, advised Peel and Cooper to return to their clubs after the New Zealand clash.

Martyn Thomas
The welfare of the player is vitally important and it is right and proper that Gareth Cooper can endeavour to retain the Wales number nine shirt he has earned through this series so far

Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union management board

The WRU has no contractual agreement with English clubs to cover player availability for the Australia game because it falls outside the IRB window.

But PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty told BBC Sport: "We have no issue in allowing a player to be released if the club agrees.

"Gloucester have two scrum-halves available for their game this weekend and do not require Gareth Cooper whereas Sale want Dwayne Peel for their fixture.

"There can be no compulsory release of a player but when Gloucester assessed their playing resources today, they had two scrum-halves and allowed Cooper to go to play for Wales."

Cooper was caught in the middle of a political rugby storm when Gloucester picked him in their matchday 22 for their Premiership clash with Saracens on 16 November despite being on Wales duty.

The former Dragons player, who has been linked with a return to Wales to join the Cardiff Blues next summer, did not play in Wales' win against Canada that weekend.

But as Cooper was part of Wales' autumn Tests squad, IRB rules state the player should be with his country not his club as the date was inside the official IRB November window.

Wales can beat Wallabies - Phillips

Cooper ultimately did not feature for Gloucester against Saracens, who played teenage scrum-half Dave Lewis, and the WRU have not confirmed whether a deal was struck with Gloucester for his release.

But WRU Group chief executive Roger Lewis said: "I want to publicly thank Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the RFU management board, and Gloucester Chairman Tom Walkinshaw for helping to conclude this arrangement in the face of difficult circumstances and against a tight deadline.

"The whole issue of player release for international duty is complicated and can be pressured so I fully appreciate the difficult decisions involved in reaching a workable conclusion.

"Gareth is a proud Welshman and the important thing is that he can now focus his mind on preparing for next weekend with confidence."

RFU chief Martyn Thomas said: "There are genuine concerns from all perspectives on this issue and I am delighted we have been able to agree a solution which benefits rugby.


"The welfare of the player is vitally important and it is right and proper that Gareth Cooper can endeavour to retain the Wales number nine shirt he has earned through this series so far.

"He is also a proud and committed Gloucester player so I am sure it will be a relief to him that all parties have been involved in reaching this agreement."

Walkinshaw added: "We have defended the right of Gloucester to play the best possible team available from our squad within the terms of any agreements which are in place.

"It is important in rugby that we also take a view on what the team requirements are allied to the best interests of all the players we have available. On this occasion I am pleased that we have been able to reach a sensible understanding."

It is another twist in the elongated off-the-field battles that have dogged Welsh rugby over the last month.

The WRU took the extreme step of taking its own regions to the high court to ensure the early release of Welsh players to prepare for last weekend's opening autumn Test against South Africa.

But Premier Rugby Limited refused to let Sale pair Peel and Roberts and Cooper meet up with Wales early.

The PRL stuck to the IRB rules but that could have had a detrimental affect on the Welsh international careers of Peel, Cooper and co.

As Wales coach Warren Gatland has warned his English-based stars: "If they're not available for training or matches, it is severely going to affect their ability to be selected by Wales."

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see also
Highlights - Wales 9-29 New Zealand
23 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union

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