England are ignored as clubs decide to field stars

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The Independent Online

England's plans to get clubs to rest players before next weekend's Six Nations match against Ireland in Croke Park lay in pieces last night.

Head coach Brian Ashton employed a change of policy by naming his team earlier this week, some 10 days before the Ireland match, to encourage the clubs to comply with the request to rest those in the starting line-up.

But yesterday Bath, the club at which Ashton cut his top-level coaching teeth, revealed that England lock Danny Grewcock would be starting their vital Guinness Premiership match against London Irish tomorrow.

They were followed by Saracens naming centre Andy Farrell in the team to face Gloucester on Sunday, while the West Country club look certain to kick-off with Olly Morgan and Mike Tindall in their backs.

It also emerged last night that while Wasps are almost certain to give the England captain Phil Vickery a day off against Sale on Sunday, it is likely that flanker Joe Worsley and winger Josh Lewsey will start the game. For their part, all the signs are that Sale are likely to pick Jason Robinson and Magnus Lund in their starting XV for the vital Premiership match, which will leave them with less recovery time as well.

Apart from Vickery at Wasps, only Leicester, who have strength in depth, appear to have granted England's wish by resting, or at least keeping out of the starting line-up, Martin Corry, Louis Deacon, Harry Ellis and George Chuter. A suspension of play in the French Championship means prop Perry Freshwater gets a break anyway.

If anyone had any doubts about how the clubs felt about the whole issue, they only had to listen to what Newcastle had to say.

Falcons, the club Rob Andrew guided into the professional era, yesterday angrily denied suggestions that they were resting England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

The clubs are under no obligation to leave out their players and John Fletcher, Newcastle's director of rugby, was fuming that Wilkinson's omission from the Falcons' line-up at Bristol on Sunday was thought to be in direct response to the hope expressed by Andrew, the RFU's director of elite rugby, and Ashton's boss, that players would be given this weekend off.

"The decision was that Jonny is not fit to play - he is carrying bumps, bruises and strains after two massive games," insisted Fletcher. "He hasn't trained with the team this week.

"He is definitely not rested - he wouldn't have played for anyone this weekend. Nowhere in the statement did it say Jonny had been rested, and nowhere did it say the decision was made in consultation with England.

"We're 10th in the league going to play one of the top teams on Sunday. I'd have to be a stark raving lunatic to go into such a game without one of the best players in the world.

"I can see why some of our supporters are upset at the suggestion that we've rested him, but that simply isn't the case."

Wilkinson's fellow Falcons and England team-mates Mathew Tait and Toby Flood will be starting the crucial match.

Bath head coach Steve Meehan was equally uncompromising when explaining Grewcock's presence in his club's starting line-up. "The Guinness Premiership is an extremely tough competition and this game is very important to us," said Australian Meehan.

"Danny will definitely start. We've monitored his physical well-being since he came back from England duty. It's not an ideal world from England's point of view, but this is something for the administrators to sort out."

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