Premiership fans tell Baron their allegiance is to clubs

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The Independent Online

The vast majority of these spectators will not have a snowball's chance in hell of obtaining a seat for one of the England's major autumn internationals at Twickenham, for the very good reason that tickets are not sold to the general public. Under the circumstances, it is not particularly surprising that the RFU's "England first and last" mantra should find little sympathy with those who have bought, body and soul, into the culture of club rugby.

Across the Channel, the high-born Parisians of Stade Français expect a gate of 80,000 for their game with Toulouse this weekend - a record attendance in France for a non-international match in any sport. Together with the Heineken Cup, which starts a week today with matches in three countries, the Premiership and Le Championnat are the great success stories of professional rugby in Europe. The national unions attack them at their peril.

Sale, who look a million dollars when Sébastien Chabal has the ball under his bear-like armpit and God is in his heaven, see tonight's match as a rite of passage. Under Philippe Saint-André, they have given themselves the stamp of potential champions, but only a victory over the holders in a full-on contest will lend genuine weight to their candidacy. Wasps are in no mood to collaborate, reinforced as they are by Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey, both fit.

"This season's squad is the strongest we've had at Sale since I joined the club," the captain, Jason Robinson, said. "I feel we have a side to match all the teams in the Premiership, but having the potential and actually carrying it out are two different things. This game is very important to us. We want to win all our home games, but Wasps have targeted this one as well."

Newcastle, who shipped 127 points to Leicester last season, travel to Welford Road with Jonny Wilkinson in the starting line-up for the first time in aeons. Wilkinson turned it on during a lengthy appearance off the bench in the Powergen Cup tie at Llanelli Scarlets last Sunday.

Meanwhile, the former New Zealand scrum-half Justin Marshall will captain Leeds at Worcester in the absence of Stuart Hooper, Tom Palmer and Iain Balshaw, among others. Leeds have yet to win a game this term, while Worcester have lost only once in the Premiership. Marshall must have found life easier with the All Blacks.

* The Rugby Football Union sent a letter yesterday to Premier Rugby Ltd, challenging the clubs' umbrella body to declare whether they believe the Long Form Agreement is legally binding.

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