Barkley returns to Bath to reclaim England shirt

Midfielder ends unhappy stint at Gloucester intent on reviving international career
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The Independent Online

Olly Barkley, as much one of English rugby's lost souls as one of its prime midfield talents, will return to Bath next season after an unhappy and unfulfilling stint at Gloucester. Few will die of shock at the news – Barkley rather gave the game away recently by using the word "we" while referring to his old club – but the confirmation was welcomed by those Bath supporters given to wondering whether their team can challenge seriously for a trophy without a dependable goal-kicker.

The Recreation Grounders are still in the shake-up for the Premiership title, but recent struggles saw them slip to fourth in the final table and lumber themselves with a tough semi-final at Leicester, who knocked them out of the Heineken Cup at the last-eight stage earlier this month. Missed kicks by the World Cup-winning Springbok outside-half Butch James did not help their cause then, and as James has crocked himself so badly that the rest of 2009 looks like being a write-off, Barkley's reappearance will smooth some furrowed brows.

Those who could not quite understand his decision to leave Bath in the first place were reinforced in their puzzlement a few weeks into the campaign, when the Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan broke up Barkley's midfield partnership with Ryan Lamb – who, it should be added, is also considering a move away from Kingsholm. Struggling for form and short of confidence, Barkley quickly lost his place in England's elite squad and, as a consequence, failed to feature on the radar of the British and Irish Lions selectors as they pieced together their tour party for the forthcoming trip to South Africa.

"I know I will not walk back in and be handed my shirt straight away," said Barkley, who scored almost 1,700 points in 178 matches during his first stay at the Rec and has put his name to a two-year contract. Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, was in full agreement with this sentiment. "We've moved on a little over the last 12 months and Olly will have to adjust to that," he said. "But I am looking forward to seeing him take up the challenge and watching his form exceed that of the 2007-08 season, which was arguably his finest. When he achieves that, the England selectors will think of him again."

Another one-time Bath and England player who made the move to Gloucester, the full-back Iain Balshaw, is the latest to be linked to a move across the Channel. Biarritz, a shadow of the team they once were but beginning to rediscover their bearings after a rough few months in the French Top 14 tournament, are said to have agreed terms with the 2001 Lion. Should Balshaw press ahead with the move, he will join a number of current and recent red-rose internationals – Riki Flutey, James Haskell, Tom Palmer, Jamie Noon and Shaun Perry – in heading for the Eurozone. A fellow by the name of Wilkinson is also negotiating a deal in France.