RFU shrug off Haskell row

ENGLAND chiefs have attempted to distance themselves from the escalating row with Stade Francais over James Haskell’s availability, insisting the disagreement is solely between the player and his club.

Stade Francais officials have repeatedly called on the Rugby Football Union to release the flanker from England’s Six Nations squad so that he can play in tomorrow’s Top 14 fixture against Toulouse.

Those at the French club deny the existence of any clause in Haskell’s contract that stipulates he can remain with the national team during international periods, as his England-based colleagues do.

But RFU elite director Rob Andrew, reiterating that Haskell will not be heading back across the Channel before next weekend’s clash with Scotland, says he is merely going on what the player and his advisers have told him.

“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.”

In a further twist, England manager Martin Johnson was forced to deny suggestions of a “convenient illness” after Haskell missed training yesterday. While English clubs receive compensation from the RFU for the loss of players, Stade do not and their president Max Guazzini said his side “should not, therefore, finance the preparation of the England team”.

Andrew added: “We set out very clearly what the ground rules were for the guys involved. We asked players to give us undertakings from their advisors, their agents or their lawyers that they have agreed with their clubs what we effectively require.

“We can only go on an undertaking from James’ lawyer – that he has the release periods that we require in his agreement with his club.”