Rugby Union: Back to full strength for Twickenham final: Cooke report delivered to RFU warns of conflict between club and country over players

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The Independent Online
HAVING unashamedly concluded their league programme with second XVs, Bath and Leicester revert to their first choice for Saturday's champions v cup holders Pilkington final at Twickenham - and both are relieved to be able to do so.

Leicester have known for some time that Neil Back, who became an England flanker and then an ex-England flanker this season, would have recovered from his broken thumb, always provided they could persuade him it was worth taking the trouble.

Back's misadventures at the England selectors' hands, most recently his omission from the imminent tour to South Africa, have done nothing to maintain his motivation. But the Tigers have no doubt of his worth, even after a six-week absence, and as ever he will have a point to prove about sizeism in rugby.

Leicester's less obvious casualties, the second-row pair of Martin Johnson and Matthew Poole, have been passed fit, as has Mike Catt for Bath, whose sprained ankle has recovered more quickly than at first expected. Unlike Back, all three are in the England tour party who leave next Wednesday.

The man everyone assumed would be the manager in South Africa, Geoff Cooke, has delivered his final report to the Rugby Football Union, which released it yesterday. Cooke retired at the end of the recent Five Nations' Championship and has been succeeded by Jack Rowell, whose final match as Bath coach is Saturday's cup final.

Cooke has expressed a growing concern at the conflict between the demands made on players by club and country. In his report he warned that the problem could soon be seriously exacerbated. 'It is not too fanciful to predict a situation in the not- too-distant future where players are under contract to their clubs and the national team managers will have to request their release to play in international matches,' he said.

'An increasing number of clubs have full-time administrators and this puts the amateur team managers at a disadvantage. It may soon become essential to write a clause into the league participation rules stating that clubs must release players for divisional and national representative matches if requested to do so by the England team management.'

Cooke's generally optimistic report returns to a familiar England grouse: overseas referees. 'It is an interesting fact that the only matches England have lost in the Five Nations since February 1988 have been those controlled by Antipodean or French referees.' Which still begs the question of who is really to blame: the foreign referees or the England players?

PILKINGTON CUP: Bath: J Callard; A Swift, P de Glanville, M Catt, A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; D Hilton, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman, A Reed, J Hall (capt), B Clarke, A Robinson. Replacements: I Sanders, E Rayner, A Lumsden, J Mallett, T Beddow, S Ojomoh.

Leicester: W Kilford; T Underwood, L Boyle, S Potter, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back. Replacements: D Jelley, C Johnson, C Tarbuck, W Drake- Lee, J Hamilton, N Malone.

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