Rugby Union: Brittle threat to clubs' cup cash

IT IS far too early to talk about an endgame, but the interminable dispute between Cliff Brittle's wing of the Rugby Football Union and England's increasingly flabbergasted cabal of Premiership clubs is about to take what may be a decisive turn for the worse, writes Chris Hewett.

Brittle, the chairman of the RFU's management board, has threatened to withhold money to which the clubs claim they are entitled and they will meet counsel next week to discuss issuing a writ.

What is more, they have privately agreed to take the strongest possible action against any England player signing a new contract with the union that conflicts with his club agreement. "No club would select the player and no club would play against any side who did attempt to field him," said a clubs' insider last night. "As far as legal action over the money is concerned, we have been told that we are on the strongest imaginable legal ground."

As expected, the management board this week rejected the clubs' proposal to expand both divisions of the Premiership to 14-team leagues next season. Brittle then wrote to Donald Kerr, the chairman of the clubs' umbrella organisation, threatening to withhold Tetley's Bitter Cup receipts and RFU grant money in response to their decision to boycott all European rugby next term.

"We are amazed that Mr Brittle should threaten us in this way and it is very unfortunate that he should seek to link Carlsberg-Tetley to an unrelated issue the day before the semi-finals of the cup," said Doug Ash, the chief executive of English First Division Rugby. "According to our very strong legal opinion, the RFU has absolutely no grounds."