Rugby Union: Barnes decides on early retirement: Bath's 'irreplaceable' play-maker forced to quit by persistent groin injury

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The Independent Online
THE great debate as to who should be England's stand-off finally came to an end last night when Stuart Barnes announced that he had decided to retire from rugby.

Perhaps assuming the pen is mightier than the sword, Barnes had aimed to hold back the decision for his newspaper column following the return of England from South Africa but, as swift as one of his breaks, the news soon broke.

Barnes, 31 and with a writing career beckoning, has finally decided to call it a day because of a persistent groin injury. 'I've just had enough. The injury was getting on top of me,' he said.

Just as persistent has been the inclusion in the England team of Wasps' Rob Andrew, regarded as the safe option but a player who proved to be the choice of the selectors for the two Tests against the Springboks, which concluded with defeat in the second of those in Cape Town on Saturday.

Barnes, the play-maker with Bath, ousted Andrew for the games with Scotland and Ireland last year. However, since making his debut against Australia 10 years ago, he has won only a further nine caps - four of those as a replacement.

Andrew and Barnes went on the Lion's tour of New Zealand last summer and were the stand-offs England chose for the trip to South Africa. On both occasions, though, Andrew won the Test spots.

When Jack Rowell took charge of England, there was a chance Barnes's luck might change. In which case, he has again been disappointed and said: 'I never want to stretch a hamstring again.'

His retirement, meanwhile, has put Mike Catt, another Bath player, in line to become the club's regular stand-off and possibly the natural successor to Andrew after next year's World Cup in South africa.

Last night, Brian Ashton, who has succeeded Rowell as Bath coach, said: 'Stuart is totally irreplaceable. He is a one-off. I don't think there's ever been a player like him and the way rugby is going there will certainly be nobody like him in the future.'

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