Rob Andrew, England's elite director of rugby, has reiterated that England will not be releasing James Haskell to play for Stade Francais this weekend. And in doing so, Andrew has shifted the spotlight of the club-versus-country row directly on to the former London Wasps player himself. Stade Francais are desperate for Haskell to be available for Saturday's pivotal Top 14 clash with Toulouse, for which they have sold nearly 80,000 tickets.
International Rugby Board regulations give clubs first call on players in a non-international week and there is nothing in Haskell's club contract to over-ride that. But Andrew refused to back down, arguing England's decision is based on guarantees made by Haskell that he has a separate agreement in place with Stade Francais covering his release. "We have been given assurances by James and his advisors that he has an agreement with Stade that he can fulfil the release periods for England training," said Andrew.
"The position is between the player and the club. There is no issue here between the RFU and Stade Francais Meanwhile, David Attoub, the Stade Francais prop, had his appeal against a 70-week ban for gouging thrown out by an independent appeal committee yesterday. The France international was handed the original suspension in January after being found guilty of making contact with the eye or eye area of Ulster's Stephen Ferris in a Heineken Cup clash in December. The appeal committee yesterday ruled he "had not demonstrated that the original decision had been in error and therefore dismissed the appeal".
Attoub is now banned from all rugby until April 22, 2011. Also in Europe, the Ospreys remain hopeful of having Alun-Wyn Jones available for their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Biarritz after he underwent surgery on his elbow injury. The Wales lock chipped the bone and suffered ligament damage during his country's astonishing 31-24 Six Nations victory against Scotland last month. The 24-year-old has started a rehabilitation programme that the Liberty Stadium side hope will see him ready to face the French outfit in San Sebastian on April 10.
Andy Goode will make his full debut for the Natal Sharks tomorrow after being named in the starting XV to face the NSW Waratahs in Sydney in the Super 14. * With agencies