Bath take the studious route

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The Independent Online
Bath yesterday steered an innovative course into rugby union's new professionalism by announcing a three-way deal that will establish 30 rugby scholarships at the University of Bath starting with Richard Butland, the stand-off who played in last season's cup final, writes Steve Bale.

With the protracted business of fixing contracts for the current squad now likely to be settled next month, the club are therefore almost ready for both the present and the future. Don Rutherford, the Rugby Football Union's technical director, and John Elliott, England selector and national player-development officer, were presented with details of the scholarships at the university yesterday.

Accountants are, meanwhile, drawing up a business plan which will be ready by the middle of January, provided details of next season's European competition can be agreed by then. From there, according to John Hall, Bath's director of rugby, it will be a relatively short step to agreeing lucrative contracts.

All the leading clubs are embarked on much the same exercise - on Friday Harlequins will announce a major sponsorship to help pay for professionalism - but Bath are looking further ahead with their link-up with the Keynsham firm Western Freights to fund the scholarships with pounds 500,000 (split 50/50 between club and company) over eight years. Last month Harlequins announced a more modest scheme for five scholarships at the University of Surrey; Leicester have a tie-up with Loughborough University.

Yesterday Butland, 24, a second-year engineering undergraduate, became the first of the new scholars, following a previously intermittent line which began in 1980 with Chris Martin, later England's full-back.

Ged Roddy, who doubles as the university's director of sport and Bath's player-development coach, expects seven others to have joined Butland by the beginning of the next academic year, building towards the target of 30 over four years and thereby taking care of a significant part of the club's recruitment.

n Saracens have followed their signing of Michael Lynagh by recruiting the Romford-born Llanelli and Wales lock Tony Copsey.

n The Irish RFU are to provide pounds 400,000 towards development of the game, the four provincial branches receiving pounds 100,000. It has been confirmed that Leinster, Munster and Ulster will all play in next season's Heineken Cup.

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