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Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

JEFF BACKS CUP BATTLE

By Alex Spink

FORMER England prop Jeff Probyn claimed yesterday that having half the national team battering each other the week before they play France improves their chances of Six Nations glory.

England are on a collision course with the clubs over what is best for the international players on March 4, when Wasps, Leicester and Bath are in Powergen Cup semi-final action in Cardiff.
The Rugby Football Union wants England players released from club duty for the duration of the Six Nations campaign whereas the clubs insist on playing their stars.

The Millennium Stadium double-header - pitting Wasps against Leicester in one tie and Bath against Llanelli in the other - comes the week after England play away in Scotland and eight days before they go to Paris.

Yet far from hurting England's chances, Probyn believes having the Powergen shoot-out on the Six Nations' rest weekend enhances their prospects.

"It will keep the players on the edge of their game," he argued. "Sir Clive Woodward once said that international matches are won by inches and not by yards. I agree with him.

"So while I can understand Andy Robinson not wanting the players to play in case of injury, I think it will do England good."

Robinson must hope Probyn is right as, with no agreement between clubs and country in sight on player release, the likelihood is that Bath's England quintet of Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick, Matt Stevens, Olly Barkley and Lee Mears will be tearing into Llanelli.

Worse still, Leicester's Martin Corry, Lewis Moody, Louis Deacon, Harry Ellis and Tom Varndell will be pounding into England team-mates Josh Lewsey, Matt Dawson, Tom Voyce, Simon Shaw and Mark van Gisbergen of Wasps.

Wasps chief executive David Davies said: "I think it is important that the players play in this competition, which will be good news for the sponsors and the broadcasters."

England badly need to mount a serious challenge for the Six Nations title. Last year they lost their first three games and finished fourth - their lowest position since the champion-ship was enlarged to include Italy in 2000.

ENGLAND MEN FACE FIXTURE PILE-UP
SAT 4 FEB - England v Wales (Twickenham)
SAT 11 FEB - Italy v England (Rome)
18/19 FEB - Full Guinness Premiership programme
SAT 25 FEB - Scotland v England (Murrayfield)
SAT 4 MAR - Powergen Cup semi-finals (Cardiff)
SUN 12 MAR - France v England (Paris)
SAT 18 MAR - England v Ireland (Twickenham)
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