Rugby Union: Bath end Clarke's Rec exile

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BEN CLARKE has signed a two-year contract to rejoin his former club, Bath, after a three-year absence. The England back-row spent five seasons at the Recreation Ground, having joined them from Saracens in July 1991, making 61 league appearances and scoring 14 tries.

"I'm thrilled to come back to Bath, particularly with such a great season in prospect," he said. "The management here is quietly putting together the right squad, with a mixture of youth and experience. I'm delighted to be part of this."

Since leaving Bath Clarke has been captain at Richmond and led them to the Premiership Two title, pipping Newcastle to the top place, in his first season as skipper.

The 31-year-old had talks with Dick Best, rugby director at the new London "super-club" London Irish, but discussions broke down. There was also uncertainty surrounding the merger of Richmond and London Scottish with London Irish, after the English First Division Rugby board met in London on Tuesday. The EFDR decided to postpone the merger while it is established who owns London Scottish with Bristol, who have kept the Exiles afloat since February with a loan which converts to a 24.9 per cent stake, in conflict with the London Scottish chairman, Tony Tiarks.

"Ben is an outstanding player who is highly thought of by everyone at Bath," said the Bath coach, Andy Robinson. "His addition to the squad will help us in our efforts to compete for major honours next season."

Bath had a disappointing season by their standards, with no silverware added to the trophy cabinet. Denied an opportunity to defend their European Cup title, they beat off Newcastle for the final England slot in the competition for the coming season by beating London Scottish 76-13.

Another player who could be heading back to the Recreation Ground is the former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall. Earlier this week, the 24-year-old was released by the Tetley's Bitter Cup winners, Wasps, along with the former England centre Nick Greenstock, England A hooker Simon Mitchell, Canada full-back Gareth Rees and the French flanker Florent Rossigneux.

Gomarsall, capped six times by England, made three appearances for Bath during a brief loan spell mid-season. His agent will be speaking with Bath's Andy Robinson this week.

Exeter Chiefs, of Allied Dunbar Premiership Two, have signed the All Black flanker Blair Foote from the New Zealand national provincial champions, North Harbour. The 6ft 3in, 15st, back-row, due to arrive in the country on 3 August, will bring an impressive pedigree to the County Ground, having played for New Zealand at sevens, under-21 and full international level.

Northampton have agreed to release the French centre David Dantiacq so he can rejoin his former club, Pau. Dantiacq joined the Saints at the beginning of last season but failed to secure a regular first-team place.

The former Wallaby David Campese has been denied his chance to make a fleeting return to international rugby after the United States cancelled the first of their three matches on this month's tour of Australia. Campese retired from Test rugby in 1996 but had planned to make a comeback for the Australian Capital Territory President's XV against the Eagles on 18 July. But Campese's hopes were dashed when the Eagles announced yesterday that they only wanted to play two games on their tour because they were worried it could harm their chances at the World Cup later this year.