Bath lead resistance in club v country battle

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The Independent Online

Bath fired the first public shots yesterday in the fight over release days for the Six Nations by declaring their players will not be made available to England on non-international weekends.

The England head coach Andy Robinson wants to keep his squad together for a block of eight weeks over the entire championship. He does not want players turning out for their clubs the weekend before England open their Six Nations campaign against Wales on 4 February, or the two blank weekends during the championship.

But the Bath chief executive, Bob Calleja, issued a brief, but pointed statement making the club's position clear. He said: "There is no agreement to release our England players for extra training days before or during the Six Nations.

"We are anticipating full-strength Bath sides for our home games against Wasps on 28 January, against London Irish on 18 February as well as our Powergen Cup semi-final against Llanelli."

The RFU is trying to thrash out a strategic plan leading through the Six Nations and targeting a successful World Cup defence in 2007. The RFU chief executive, Francis Baron had, warned that unless an agreement was in place by the end of last month, then England's World Cup hopes would suffer irreparable damage.

But the clubs believe otherwise. The two organisations - the RFU and the clubs' umbrella body Premier Rugby - are locked in a battle over the management of élite players. The clubs agreed to England having an extra week's preparation before the autumn internationals, but they fail to understand why Robinson needs so long to work with his players.