Bath make professional progression

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The Independent Online
Bath's status is such that they could already consider themselves the Manchester United of rugby, but yesterday they set about turning this into more concrete form by beginning the process of turning the club into a limited company just like United, writes Steve Bale.

By this means, the blue-chip West Country club, champions five times and cup-winners nine times since 1984, intend to attract corporate investment to finance professionalism, which will become a reality at the end of this season. According to the Bath chairman, Richard Mawditt, half a dozen companies have expressed firm interest.

By rugby standards, big money will be involved. Bath estimate they will need pounds 3m in the next couple of years over and above their present income so that attractive contracts can be placed before their players, many of whom are already subject to offers from other clubs. The club's wage bill for next season alone will be pounds 1.5m.

More than 800 members, 20 per cent of the total, had gathered for an emergency general meeting which voted by 806-6, with eight abstentions, to turn the club into a company which will also be charged with finding the pounds 6m necessary to expand the capacity of the Recreation Ground in the heart of the Georgian city from 8,500 to more than 15,000.

The dropped French hooker Jean-Michael Gonzales yesterday regained the place that had been lost for Saturday's game against Wales when a sprained ankle caused the withdrawal of Marc de Rougemont, who had replaced him. With Wales facing a second consecutive Five Nations whitewash, the coach, Kevin Bowring, has summoned one of the Cardiff coaches, the former Pontypool and Wales prop Charlie Faulkner, to assist scrummaging preparation.

Most of the French team, meanwhile, are hawking their services around English rugby. Newcastle's Rob Andrew has been in discussions with Jean- Luc Sadourny, Emile Ntamack and Thomas Castaignede, the latter two from his old club, Toulouse. Abdel Benazzi, Christian Califano, Olivier Roumat, Thierry Lacroix, Olivier Merle, Laurent Benezech and Laurent Cabannes are being associated with sundry other English clubs.

Andrew will not achieve another of his targets, the former Wales centre Scott Gibbs, who has signed a registration form in the hope of being released by St Helens to play in the off-season for Newcastle. "Scott is going nowhere," David Howes, Saints' chief executive, said yesterday.

One union-league link-up that was agreed was Wakefield Trinity's acquisition of Orrell's 20-year-old Scottish wing, Graeme Smith, for summer rugby league. In addition, Wigan have agreed to play in a rugby union sevens tournament organised by Newcastle on 4 May - a week before their participation in the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham.