Court date leaves Barkley available for start of Six Nations

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The Independent Online

Olly Barkley, the Bath midfielder currently playing the most convincing rugby of his career, will be available for England when the Six Nations Championship begins early next month. Barkley made a brief appearance before Aylesbury magistrates yesterday, denying a charge of assault causing actual bodily harm an accusation arising from an alleged incident at a wedding reception last summer and electing trial by jury at Crown Court. He is scheduled to be committed on 11 February, by which time the first two rounds of the international tournament will have been played.

Brian Ashton, the England head coach, has stood by Barkley for the best part of six months, selecting him for his World Cup party and starting him in the pool games against the United States, Samoa and Tonga. Given the 26-year-old goal-kicker's form, he is a short-priced bet to be named in Ashton's squad for the Six Nations, due to be announced a week tomorrow.

The coach is not exactly short of options in the outside-half, inside-centre area: Jonny Wilkinson, Charlie Hodgson, Danny Cipriani, Ryan Lamb, Toby Flood and Anthony Allen are all chasing places, and it is not yet certain that Andy Farrell's ill-starred attempt to bridge the gap between the two rugby codes has been consigned to the dustbin of history. Barkley gives best to no rival at the moment, however, and the likelihood is that Ashton will continue to annoy a small handful of self-appointed sporting moralists by supporting him once again.

One of rugby's longest-running sores the mutual distrust and loathing that stains the relationship between Argentina's international players and their governing body in Buenos Aires was much in evidence yesterday when Agustin Pichot, the wonderful scrum-half who led the Pumas to a podium finish at the World Cup, renewed his argument with officialdom by lambasting the Argentine union's reluctant embrace of professionalism.

"What Argentine rugby is going through is a disgrace," said the Paris-based player, who recently left Stade Franais for a spell with the ambitious Second Division side Metro Racing 92. "It is unbelievable. The Argentine directors change their minds every day and it is difficult to get anything done."

Pichot and a cadre of fellow senior players have long urged the union to abandon its outdated commitment to amateurism and take steps to develop a professional tier of domestic rugby a move that would strengthen the playing base in Argentina and make it far easier for the Pumas to participate in an expanded southern hemisphere Tri-Nations from 2012, which is a clear and stated aim of the International Rugby Board. At present, the vast majority of the elite players earn their livings in Europe and play fewer Test matches than any of their principal rivals on the international circuit.

Much to Pichot's frustration, the president of the union, Alejandro Risler, wants to place the Test players on central contracts without taking steps to professionalise the domestic game. The issue will be discussed further in Buenos Aires on Friday, but Pichot fears that despite IRB urgings, there will be no significant weakening of the amateur stand and, therefore, no meaningful long-term progress.

In Wales, the Test fly-half James Hook kicked 17 points to guide Ospreys to a 22-3 Magners League victory over Cardiff Blues. Huw Bennett, the Ospreys hooker, scored the only try of the contest. Gavin Henson, who had hoped to play for the first time since running into trouble with the British Transport Police on his way home from a cup match at Harlequins last month, failed a late fitness test and did not appear.

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