Mystery over Ashton's absence

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The Independent Online
Bath yesterday moved quickly to quash speculation that their coach, Brian Ashton, could be about to leave the Recreation Ground. Ashton has been the club's inspiration, but will apparently play no part in the holders' build-up to their Pilkington Cup fifth-round tie against London Irish on Saturday.

A statement released by Ashton and senior club officials, read: "Bath Rugby Club and Brian Ashton wish to confirm that Mr Ashton is on holiday, and remains an employee of Bath Rugby Club."

The England flanker Andy Robinson has been drafted in to help prepare the side for Saturday's game as Bath begin their defence of a trophy they have won three years running.

Bath players are staying silent, but the first they heard of Ashton's week off was when they reported for training yesterday. Out of Europe and beaten three times in the league this season, Bath have enjoyed unprecedented success since 1984, winning 10 Twickenham cup finals and six First Division titles.

Ashton was Jack Rowell's right-hand man during most of that period, and took on the top job when Rowell succeeded Geoff Cooke as England manager in April, 1994. It was upgraded to a salaried position from 1 July, which persuaded Ashton that he should relinquish his role as a housemaster at King's School in Bruton, Somerset.

Ashton, however, has seemed a somewhat peripheral figure this season while Bath's rugby director, the former England flanker and club captain John Hall, took centre stage. If Ashton does quit, it will leave Bath facing an unsettling period when they face crucial league matches against fellow championship challengers Sale, Saracens, Harlequins and Northampton.

n Blackheath yesterday appointed former All Black forward Hika Reid as their full-time director of coaching.