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Bath eager to retain Shontayne Hape

Sir Ian McGeechan has underlined Bath's desire to keep England centre Shontayne Hape at the Recreation Ground next season.

Former rugby league star Hape, who won his seventh cap in England's RBS 6 Nations victory over Wales last week, is a rumoured target for London Irish and Wasps.

But Bath rugby director McGeechan is hopeful that New Zealand-born Hape will remain in the west country.

"Talks are just going on," he said.

"We want to keep him, and it's just a matter of, hopefully, coming to the right conclusion. I have a lot of time for Shontayne, and he knows that."

Of more immediate concern to McGeechan and his coaching staff is tomorrow night's resumption of Aviva Premiership business after a five-week break.

Eighth-placed Bath head to Edgeley Park for an appointment with Sale Sharks, who are two two places and seven points below them.

Bath have won five out of their six games in all competitions so far this year, and now face a run of Premiership fixtures that will see them take on Sale, Northampton, Exeter and Gloucester.

McGeechan added: "The next four Premiership games now are very important to our season.

"We've built up a bit of momentum since Christmas. but if we are not right with our game, we will not win (against Sale).

"They've had some big wins up there against significant opposition. They are a force there, and always have been.

"The (LV= Cup) victory at Welford Road last week was a good confidence-builder against a mixed Leicester side. The players are in good spirits, and we've had a good few weeks in training.

"You try and build on what is there, and when you feel good about what you are doing and how you are doing it, that adds to the feeling of training and means there is a good atmosphere going into the game."

Bath will head north without their England trio of Hape, Matt Banahan and David Wilson, but South Africans Butch James, Michael Claassens and Luke Watson all start, as does Scotland international back-row forward Simon Taylor.

Sale are also hit by Test absentees - wing Mark Cueto and prop Andrew Sheridan - while their Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel is nursing a sore hip as they look to bounce back from a hefty LV= Cup defeat against Saracens last time out.

Sharks head coach Pete Anglesea said: "This is a big game that we are looking forward to.

"We have addressed the way we played at Saracens, and we are looking to return to the way we were playing at the start of the year."