Bath fear loss of Barkley as well as Borthwick

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The Independent Online

Bath, still reeling after confirmation that they are to lose Steve Borthwick, their captain and most influential forward, to Saracens at the end of the season, now face a fight to hang on to Olly Barkley, their most influential back.

Barkley, who is in the form of his life for Bath, is out of contract at the end of the season and has had talks with rival clubs. It is understood that Barkley is keen to stay in the West Country, which would make Gloucester and Bristol the favourites to win his signature. Barkley is due to have further talks with Bath and a decision on his future is expected in the next fortnight.

The loss of Borthwick, who has won 32 England caps, will be a savage blow. Saracens, probably the richest club in the Premiership in terms of investment potential, are nakedly ambitious and certain to make the most of the impending rise to £4m in the salary cap next season.

Borthwick, 28, who has been at Bath for 10 years, playing 219 games, is arguably the outstanding technical line-out exponent in English rugby.

His move will see him team up with the much-decorated All Black lock Chris Jack, creating a formidable forward unit for Saracens, who are also being linked with another Bath forward who will be out of contract at the end of the season, the versatile England prop Matt Stevens.

Alan Gaffney, the Saracens rugby director, said: "Steve is an excellent line-out forward in the prime of his career. His ability in the set piece and all around the pitch means he will fit in well with the expansive and attacking style of rugby we are developing at the club and want to play in the years to come."

The England head coach, Brian Ashton, has appointed John Hall, the former Bath captain and England back row forward, as the red rose video analyst. Hall, who won 21 caps, was Bath's first director of rugby in the professional era.

Serge Betsen, 33, the France flanker, has announced he has retired from international rugby with immediate effect, and that he will end his club career with Biarritz at the end of the season.

A fractured hand means France will be without the centre Yannick Jauzion for their opening Six Nations Championship match against Scotland at Murrayfield on 3 February, and possibly their second one the following week against Ireland in Paris.

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