RFU defiant after Stade 'order' return of Haskell

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The Independent Online

The row between Stade Français and England heated up to the brink of mutiny yesterday when the French club "ordered" James Haskell to ignore the orders of his country and to return "most urgently" to prepare to play against Toulouse on Saturday.

The RFU had declared it is under no obligation to release the flanker during England Elite Player Squad periods. But that claim is denied by the Paris club. "Contrary to what the RFU are saying, no agreement has been signed," said a Stade spokesman. "The RFU must be mistaking us with other French clubs like Toulon, who have accepted such a clause about Wilkinson. For all these reasons, we are ordering Haskell to return most urgently."

The RFU has a binding agreement with all English clubs over player release but has had to negotiate individually with French clubs to try to ensure any English players joining them are available. "We are aware of the request but he is not going back," said an RFU spokesman. "We reached an agreement with Stade Français last summer and it is in James's contract that he is available. So we are under no obligation to release him."

Martin Johnson's nervous wait goes on to see if he will have the powerhouse that is Simon Shaw available for the arm wrestle that will be the Calcutta Cup a week on Saturday. The England lock will undergo an MRI scan later this week to determine the extent of the shoulder problem sustained during Saturday's Six Nations defeat to Ireland.

The 36-year-old was examined by a shoulder specialist yesterday and had an X-ray on the acromioclavicular joint. The influential Lion obviously remains a big doubt for the collision in Murrayfield. There is also a wait-and-see policy in operation with the full-back Delon Armitage and his rib cartilage injury.

Meanwhile, Andy Powell, the Wales back-rower, was banned from driving for 15 months yesterday after pleading guilty to driving a golf buggy while unfit through drink last month.

* Wales will face the World Cup holders South Africa in Cardiff on 5 June the day before heading to New Zealand for a two-Test tour