Agreement reunites the Five Nations

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
England are back in the Five Nations' Championship. Two months after they were banished into the international wilderness, senior officials from all the home Unions have thrashed out an agreement which goes well beyond the five-year deal Twickenham struck with BSkyB.

Details of the agreement will be announced on Monday, but the indications are that the unions of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and England have agreed to keep the Championship intact for the next 10 years. All it needs now is the approval today of the unions' respective committees, which should be a formality.

After 10 weeks of uncertainty, recriminations, brinkmanship and anxiety, not to mention behind-the-scenes machinations, manoeuvres and meetings among the respective unions, the historic tournament that dates from 1909 is back on everyone's fixture list and social and sporting calendar -and for up to 10 years.

While much credit must go to the presidents and their teams, it emerged last night that BSkyB, whose pounds 87.5m five-year deal with Twickenham triggered the crisis, may also have offered to make some concessions to their proposed deals with the other home unions which might permit selected matches to be broadcast live on terrestrial television within Wales, Scotland and Ireland simultaneously with the satellite company's coverage.

However, it was not clear last night whether the other home unions would take up the original offers to them from Sky, worth pounds 40.5m to Wales and pounds 28m each to Scotland and Ireland.

The feeling throughout the game last night was one of relief that a troubled summer was going to give way to a winter of content throughout the British Isles and France. The agreement could also go a long way towards helping sort out the problems between the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs and the Rugby Football Union.

Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, said last night: "Resolving the Five Nations issue must help in the jigsaw of problems we face. The problem with Epruc, which we take very seriously, still has to be resolved. We still have a lot of work to do there and we will be pursuing that. Hopefully the settlement of the Five Nations will contribute to the ultimate resolution and help that come to pass."

Cliff Brittle, chairman of the executive committee and a member of the RFU president John Richardson's three-man team, which also included the treasurer Colin Herridge, said: "I think we are all relieved. This has not just been done for the unions, it's been done for everyone who is interested in rugby football throughout the Five Nations."

It has emerged that in addition to Wednesday night's eight- hour meeting in Bristol between the four home unions - held with the knowledge and approval of France - that there had also been intense activity off stage over the last three weeks which involved Brittle in particular in a great deal of travelling from his holiday home in the south of France as the deal was brokered among the Big Five.

"After a lot of hard work throughout the summer we have come to a sensible agreement which satisfies all parties. It is a very good thing and has set the foundations for the future," Brittle said.

Hallett added: "This is the result of team work on all sides. It is a major achievement by the negotiators. The competition is special and attractive. It is a weight off our shoulders and a help that we are not fighting battles on so many fronts."

Following the meeting in Bristol, a joint statement was issued by the four Home Unions which read: "Last evening senior officers of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland met at the offices of the International Rugby Board in Bristol in a last attempt to resolve the issues between them as they relate to the Five Nations' Championship. The meeting took place with the knowledge and concurrence of the FFR [French Federation].

"The meeting resulted in an accord which has saved the Five Nations' Championship for the coming season and for the foreseeable future. The full details of this most welcome news will now be reported by the officers of their respective unions and committees for approval and confirmation."