Wales delight at Hook and Phillips release
Mike Phillips and James Hook have been granted early club releases which will free them up to play for Wales in June's Test series.
Wales face the Barbarians on June 2 before playing the first match of a three-game Test series against Australia in Brisbane seven days later. Both ply their trade in the French Top 14 competition, where clubs have no obligation to release players for international call-ups, but Phillips' club, Bayonee, and Hook's employers at Perpignan have granted the duo permission to join up with their national squad on May 21. "This is fantastic news," said Wales caretaker coach Robert Howley. "It means Mike and James will be fully involved in the complete preparation programme we have in place." Both team's seasons have finished and neither faces the prospect of play-off football or demotion from the elite level, but Clermont, for whom Wales full-back Lee Byrne plays his club rugby, are involved in the end of season play-offs, meaning Byrne will be placed on stand-by and only called upon in case of emergencies. But Howley was keen to emphasise his overall satisfaction at the situation. "We are extremely grateful to the French Rugby Union and the individual clubs involved for taking this step," he said. "It is a gesture which will undoubtedly benefit the players and I know they will want to thank their individual clubs for helping them fulfil their international commitments with Wales."