Haskell speaks out in club-versus-country row

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The Independent Online

England flanker James Haskell last night attempted to set the record straight after he was caught in the middle of a club-versus-country row.

The 24-year-old expressed his regret that a "misunderstanding" occurred between England and Stade Francais over contractual clauses covering his release for international duty.



Stade Francais had wanted Haskell back in Paris for Saturday's Top 14 clash with Toulouse, but England claimed they were not obliged to release him.



Haskell will meet with Stade Francais officials after the RBS 6 Nations championship in an attempt to smooth the situation over and ensure there is no confusion in the future.



In a statement released to Press Association Sport, Haskell said: "There has been so much erroneous comment regarding my contract with Stade Francais that I feel I need to address the issue.



"The contract contains confidentiality clauses which I am bound to observe but I can say that the matter of my release for international duty and training is specifically provided for and I regret that there has been a misunderstanding with the club regarding this.



"I will be meeting with Stade Francais once the RBS 6 Nations has been completed in an endeavour to resolve this misunderstanding and to ensure there is no more confusion in the future.



"I would like to make it clear that Stade Francais have been very good to me and I am very happy in Paris. I am looking forward to playing for Stade Francais again at the conclusion of the RBS 6 Nations.



"Obviously, like any sportsman, the ultimate honour for me is to represent my country.



"I am now looking forward to putting this issue behind me so that my career can flourish at club and international level."



Haskell is set to be named in the England team to play Scotland when manager Martin Johnson announces his selection this lunchtime.



Ironically, Haskell was unable to train for most of last week anyway after becoming the latest England to be hit by a stomach bug.



But that did not stop the Stade Francais president Max Guazzini from making some strong claims, including the suggestion that England were holding Haskell "hostage".



The Rugby Football Union made it clear to all players who signed for French clubs last summer that they would only be considered for England if they could guarantee being available whenever called upon.



Guazzini accused England of "blackmail" and said at the weekend: "I am sure they told James that if he came back to us he would never play for England again."



England's elite rugby director Rob Andrew claimed Haskell advised them that an agreement over his release was in place.



Haskell's desire to smooth the situation over with Stade will be welcomed by the RFU and Andrew, who last week warned England's players in France that the row could force a change in selection policy.



With the World Cup looming at the end of next season, Andrew is anxious to avoid any conflicts which could derail England's preparations.



Andrew said: "We took the decision as the RFU not to have a policy which said we would not pick players who went to France. That is under review at any stage.



"We have to be absolutely clear about the circumstances under which players will be considered for England.



"We have to make sure that going into next season and World Cup year that this is all covered off. We can't have a situation where we have all sorts of fights and compromises."



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