National commitments may result in relegation : RUGBY UNION

RUGBY UNION

By Steve Bale

Sometimes during this pre-World Cup season you wonder what is the point of the First Division of the Courage Championship, or at any rate what is its point when it is so fundamentally inequitable?

There is another round of matches this afternoon, the first for four weeks, and they are - by official designation at this Five Nations time of the year - no more than five sideshows in between England's encounters with France and Wales. They might just as well not take place at all for all the good they are doing anybody.

Northampton are at home to Sale and Harlequins at home to Bristol. Neither can select any of their England men a week before the call to the Arms Park. It is a fearful penalty when you remember that the club - the Rugby Union has kindly reduced it to one this season - who go down stand to lose £1m-2m in sponsorship.

That is the figure given by Dick Best, the former England coach and now Quins' director of rugby. If relegation came about on merit that would be fair enough, but the impossibility of squaring club and country this season means that some contenders are being disproportionately punished for what they thought were assets rather than liabilities: their England players.

Small wonder that Northampton have signed up non-English internationals - Gregor Townsend of Scotland and Jonathan Bell of Ireland - for next season, or that Ian McGeechan, the former Scotland coach and Northampton's Dick Best equivalent, is so utterly frustrated. "If the goalposts are changing, should there really be any promotion or relegation?" McGeechan mused yesterday.

No Martin Bayfield and no Tim Rodber mean no England players at Franklin's Gardens even though both are desperate to play. The defeat of Wales is patently more important than Northampton's beating anyone, but it is still a wholly unsatisfactory situation which will have incalculable consequences for whoever finally goes down.

"The RFU really should have come up with a system," McGeechan said. "When you look at our team without Tim and Martin, it is very young and in the situation in which we find ourselves the leadership that comes with their type of experience can be very important.''

At the top both Bath, at Orrell, and Leicester, at Gloucester, are without three current England men but are each able to field a fourth: Mike Catt and Dean Richards.

The lucky leaders. It is enough to make Quins - minus Carling, Leonard and Moore - spit, but then so is the ease with which the Welsh have solved the same problem. All the Welsh Rugby Union had to do was bring today's First Division programme forward to Wednesday night, leaving the weekend free. Simple.

n Wales have doubts over four players eight days before playing England. Centre Mike Hall, prop John Davies, lock Gareth Llewellyn and the back- row Emyr Lewis could not take part in a training session yesterday.

n Jonathan Bell, who scored one of Ireland's tries against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, could miss Ireland's Five Nations match against France in Dublin on 4 March with an ankle injury.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all