Bath see off competition for Barkley

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The Independent Online

Olly Barkley has been too busy shaping a future for himself as an international outside-half to bother with outstanding paperwork, hence the delayed production of a formal written explanation as to how tickets bearing his name surfaced on the black market before the Six Nations match with Ireland at Twickenham earlier this month. But the 22-year-old goal-kicker dealt with one important piece of business yesterday by agreeing a two-year extension to his contract with Bath, the Premiership leaders.

Olly Barkley has been too busy shaping a future for himself as an international outside-half to bother with outstanding paperwork, hence the delayed production of a formal written explanation as to how tickets bearing his name surfaced on the black market before the Six Nations match with Ireland at Twickenham earlier this month. But the 22-year-old goal-kicker dealt with one important piece of business yesterday by agreeing a two-year extension to his contract with Bath, the Premiership leaders.

Barkley had been pursued with some vigour by Saracens, who appear to be chasing everything on two legs these days. Indeed, there were rumours of a megabucks deal on the table at Vicarage Road. But the London-born, Cornwall-raised, Bristol-educated stand-off has somehow managed to resist the lure of downtown Watford. Saracens may have bought themselves a whole new pack of forwards, but they will have to look elsewhere for someone to put the ball between the sticks.

"I have made this decision for rugby reasons - the most important reasons of all," Barkley explained. "I am convinced the blend at Bath is right. The spirit among the players is second to none and I believe that is evident in our ability to close out tight games."

For his part, Bath's father-figure and philosopher king was in celebratory mood. "Olly's tremendous progress this season has given enormous pleasure to everyone at the club," Jack Rowell, the director of rugby, said. "For a young player, he has shown a great deal of maturity. It was not surprising to see him impress at international level; he has the rugby world at his feet. As a playmaker and a formidable goal-kicker, he is a key factor in a relaunched Bath."

Rowell has worked with some quality outside-halves during his time at the Rec - John Horton, Stuart Barnes and Mike Catt, for starters - and he clearly believes Barkley is capable of developing into a player of similar stature. Clive Woodward, the England coach, takes a similar view. If Barkley is now ranked third behind Jonny Wilkinson and Charlie Hodgson following excellent performances against Wales and France, few front-rank coaches doubt his ability to move up at least one place in double-quick time.

Gloucester are also hanging out the bunting after securing their outstanding captain, Jake Boer, for another three seasons. The South African flanker is among the most effective overseas imports ever to play Premiership rugby - his employers rank him alongside the likes of Pat Lam and Andrew Blowers - and by committing himself to the Cherry and Whites for the long term, he has given the club a sense of stability after difficulties on the cash-flow front.

Difficulties of another flavour still hang over Gloucester. Their refusal to release Henry Paul, a brilliant exponent of the short game, for last weekend's Hong Kong Sevens was discussed by Twickenham's top brass yesterday, and while no immediate disciplinary reprisals were taken, they probably would have been, had England not won the title in Paul's absence. Instead, the club have been ordered to comply with the agreed protocol by making two players available for the forthcoming competitions in Bordeaux and London. Should they fail to, they will be hit where it hurts most - in the wallet.

Northampton have lost the services of their promising young centre, Mark Tucker, for the rest of the campaign. The former England Under-21 captain fractured his left hand during last weekend's Premiership win over Saracens.

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