Corry likely to sit out second 'tour from hell'

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On that occasion, so many senior players declined the opportunity to take on the Wallabies, the All Blacks and the Springboks at the end of an exhausting run of high-intensity rugby that Woodward advised several others not to bother. There is no prospect of his successor as national coach, Andy Robinson, taking a similar approach this time, but England will be barely recognisable, none the less.

"Martin and Andy have been having talks and I think it's highly unlikely Corry will tour," Howard said yesterday. "They're still talking, but I'd prefer Martin not to go. I think it would be great for both Leicester and England if he didn't travel. Guys who have played lots of games this year need an off-season to prepare for the World Cup. You don't win a World Cup in the middle of 2006."

Corry was the busiest player on last summer's Lions tour of New Zealand, and has not had a significant break since. He took England's latest Six Nations Championship failure personally, to the extent that he insisted on travelling to Australia in an effort to rebuild some reputations, both individual and collective. But Robinson has long favoured the rest option.

Iain Balshaw, once the most exhilarating runner in the English game and still young enough to revisit the summits he scaled in the 2001 Six Nations, has joined Gloucester on a two-year contract - suggesting that the Cherry and Whites will pose a meaningful challenge for Premiership honours next season. It is even clearer that Bath, his first professional club, are struggling for high-calibre reinforcements with Brian Ashton's move to the England set-up imminent.

Ashton, still in the first six months of a second stint as Bath's head coach, was, and remains, Balshaw's philosopher king, having worked closely with him as a teenager and nurtured his free-spirit approach to attacking rugby. As a result, Bath expected to reclaim Balshaw's services when he signalled his intention to leave relegated Leeds. Indeed, had Ashton been a fixture at the Recreation Ground, they would have won the race hands down.

Having already missed the boat with another Ashton- worshipping old boy - Mike Catt, who has decided to stay at London Irish - the Bath management must be climbing the walls. They are well used to losing top- quality coaches to England: Jack Rowell, Woodward and Robinson have all trodden the well-worn path over the last dozen years. However, this latest episode could prove the most damaging to the fabric of the club.