Rugby Union: Simply no rest for England's waiting hurly-burly men: Barrie Fairall lauds the resilience being shown by England's finest in today's league programme

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FIVE NATIONS fever may be upon us, but before England lace up their boots for the fray against Scotland at Murrayfield next month there is the feverish matter of two league weekends either side of a cup round to get through. Chuck in a few squad sessions and those of us who used to play the game for recreation feel nothing but admiration for the resilience of England's finest.

This, though, is the age of box-office rugby in which time to rest battered bodies appears almost non-existent. As John Jeavons-Fellows, chairman of the Rugby Football Union's competitions committee, said, 'We've not found a way of taking the top 50 players out of the hurly-burly after Christmas.' Furthermore, while Anglo-Welsh league suggestions may be on the RFU's back burner, Jeavons-Fellows warned: 'Even if we reduce the number of matches you can be sure the clubs will fill the gap.'

Which is why Bath's England troops, having wallowed less than luxuriously in their own mud last weekend against Bristol, are hauling themselves off to Northampton today before returning for a fifth-round cup tie with their West Country rivals. That out of the way, they can then look forward to a Courage visit from Orrell.

It sounded harsh after the win over Bristol - whose London Irish match has been held over due to the Cardiff international - when the players were dressed down by Jack Rowell. 'A few strong words were said in the dressing-room,' the coach admitted. But then with the Saints, albeit comfortably beaten at the Rec in September, next up, even the champions needed reminding what it takes to stay ahead of the pack.

Just being omitted from today's pack is what concerns the flanker Andy Robinson. 'I have had only one game since the Christmas break,' last season's captain complained, 'and I want to be playing.' Instead, Robinson, who has criticised the club's squad system, finds Steve Ojomoh selected ahead of him at Franklin's Gardens.

Also kicking his heels, though for a very different reason, is Tim Rodber. The Saints' back row limped off with a hamstring problem in the defeat at Leicester seven days ago and his priority is to get fit before the Calcutta Cup.

The Tigers, in fine form in pursuit of Bath, meanwhile head for Orrell, who have won their three previous home meetings against them. And, lest we forget, it is also county semi-final day. Well, almost. Cornwall's 15,000 Redruth sell-out for the visit of Durham has been postponed until 5 February because of a waterlogged pitch. Which leaves Yorkshire facing Gloucestershire at Otley.