The Parisian club Stade Français are reported to have made a formal approach to the Wasps and England flanker James Haskell. The 23-year-old, like Wasps' 21-year-old England fly-half Danny Cipriani, has not yet signed a new contract for next season.
Bath are also believed to be interested in Haskell; Saracens, despite a disavowal from their director of rugby, Eddie Jones, this week, are still being linked to Cipriani. Wasps had until the end of 2008 to tie the two – and other England players – to new deals before, under Premier Rugby regulations, they could speak to other clubs.
Haskell and Cipriani are among a number of England players who return to the Wasps team who will face Harlequins at Adams Park this afternoon, having missed the 31-3 defeat at Sale on Boxing Day. The openside Tom Rees, who is also yet to sign a new deal, starts as well, as does the tighthead prop Phil Vickery, who this week committed himself to the club for two years.
The loosehead prop Tim Payne, another England player whose future has not been decided, is rested under the terms of the Premiership clubs' elite player agreement with the Rugby Football Union. The workings of that deal, which came into force last summer, are due to be reviewed this month.
The new England elite and Saxonssquads will be named on 14 January and they will stay in place until the end of this season. If Haskell or Cipriani – or anyone else – was to move to France for next season they would not be eligible for inclusion in subsequent national squads. They would still, however, be eligible for England selection. Confused? You will be, and probably a lot more before the season's through.
Which means that some more-or- less straightforward action this afternoon might be something of a relief. Looking ahead to playing Wasps, Ugo Monye, the Harlequins wing who will face his England colleague Paul Sackey, said: "It has been a huge month for Harlequins.
"Home and away wins against Stade Français [in the Heineken Cup] have probably been two of the best results Harlequins have ever seen, and then to bring 50,000 to the home of English rugby [Twickenham, for last Saturday's 26-26 Premiership draw with Leicester] shows that we've come a long way."
It does, and that Wasps this week announced that ticket sales for their own match at Twickenham, against Leinster in the Heineken Cup on 17 January, have reached just 20,000 shows that these two sides have experienced something of a reversal of fortunes. Quins, who spent a season in National League One not so long ago, are usually the straggling strugglers. Not now.
"Belief is a massive part of what we are about," Monye said. "We are really creating momentum and confidence in the way we areplaying. Our aim is to get into the play-offs, and if we can keep this momentum there is more to come."
A rare double over Wasps, who were beaten 32-10 at the Stoop in November, would be a start.
Also today, Leicester host Bath and a full house will watch the latest episode in one of the game's more interesting rivalries. Bath are contesting the Premiership lead with London Irish and Leicester, in fifth, have not quite hit their stride. Bath's head coach, Steve Meehan, expects a tough test. "We are not playing as well as we can," he said. "Going up to Welford Road will focus the mind more than on any other away trip."
Leicester, like everyone else, are subject to the elite player agreement, so Toby Flood takes a rest. Derick Hougaard, a former Springbok,takes over at No 10 and Ben Kay andMartin Corry form an enormously experienced second-row pairing. The forwards coach, Richard Cockerill, is in charge as the head coach, Heyneke Meyer, has gone home to South Africa on family business.
In last night's Magners League match Ulster went to Thomond Park and pulled off an enormous upset, beating a strong Munster side 32-6 thanks to tries by Paddy Wallace, Mark McCrea, Darren Cave and Tom Court. To make things even worse for the European champions, who host a huge Heineken Cup game against Sale on 16 January, the fly-half Ronan O'Gara hurt his hamstring and the centre Rua Tipoki damaged his knee.Reuse content