Australians sound death knell for amateurism

RUGBY IN TURMOIL: Union mesmerised by money as League grapples with mergers
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Rugby union's farewell to amateurism may be even less lingering than had been expected with the big state unions in Australia yesterday taking the momentous step of declaring amateurism officially dead and expecting the Australian Rugby Football Union itself to join the obsequies today.

The concomitant move towards overt professionalism cannot now be as long delayed as the International Rugby Board's special meeting in August. It can be taken as a certainty that if the governing body does not move in that direction the Australians will do so anyway, even at the risk of creating a new great split.

Australian urgency is driven by the formation of rugby league's Super League, to which rugby union administrators in the northern hemisphere have responded disdainfully. Yet as things stand, as many as a dozen Wallabies could sign for Super League after the conclusion of the rugby union World Cup in June.

The New South Wales and Queensland Rugby Unions have passed resolutions recognising that "rugby union is no longer an amateur sport". Ian Ferrier, the NSWRU chairman, said : "Rugby worldwide has been remunerating players and coaches in various ways for a very long time. The union believes rugby in all parts of the world needs to address this complex issue of remu neration of players and coaches.

"In light of the Super League developments of recent weeks and their impact on the game of rugby, the NSWRU board discussed the whole question of amateurism in rugby and considered the impact of Super League on our game. It was the view of the board that it was obvious to even the most casual of observers that rugby was no longer amateur. Amateurism as a concept is outmoded and should be dispensed with in the modern game."

Though most of this is a statement of the extremely obvious, it is a breathtaking stroke actually to say so. New South Wales and Queensland want the Australian RFU to communicate their views directly to the IRB and other unions in the hope that a strategy of unabashed professionalisation can be adopted before the World Cup. Phil Harry, the ARFU president, is to release a similar statement today.

This issue can no longer wait if rugby union globally is to prevent its prime assets - such as the Wallaby centre Jason Little, who stands to make £500,000 from Super League - being stripped.

Dean Richards, who has not played since springing a rib cartilage in England's Grand Slam match against Scotland last month, has been chosen in the Leicester team for Saturday's First Division decider against Bath at Welford Road on condition that he prove his fitness.

For Scotland's final international before the World Cup, against Romania at Murrayfield on Saturday week, the selectors have made only three changes from the England match. Tony Stanger will win his first cap at centre after 36 on the wing, with Graham Shiel alongside him and Kevin McKenzie at hooker.

SCOTLAND (v Romania, Murrayfield, 22 April): G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), A Stanger (Hawick), G Shiel (Melrose), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers, B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), G Weir (Melrose), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R Waiwnright (West Hartlepool), E Peters (Bath), I Morrison (London Scotish). Replacements: C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), S Hastings (Watsonians), D Patterson (West Hartlepool), J Manson (Dundee HSFP), K Milne (Heriot's FP), J Richardson (Edinburgh Academicals).