Australia's World Cup deals end the sham of amateurism

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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION: The Australian Rugby Union yesterday wrote the obituary notice of amateurism when it became the first international rugby union to decide to tie its players to contracts.

For the benefit not only of its own players but also of anyone any longer under the fallacious impression that this was an amateur game, the Australians announced that their leading players would sign one-year deals, covering the World Cup and beyond, worth up to £40,000 each.

Even Vernon Pugh, chairman of the International Board, now accepts that the game at its highest level is as good as professional. "Players are receiving money in Europe as well as in the three southern-hemisphere nations," he said yesterday. "We may haveto recognise amateurism has been abandoned and then do our best to ensure we supervise consequent changes."

Pugh notwithstanding, this defining moment in the professionalisation of rugby union was accompanied by the inevitable insistence - articulated by Dick McGruther, ARU amateurism committee chairman - that it was nothing of the sort, because the payments ranging from the top amount for 11 key players down to £10,000 for the less marketable would come solely from off-field activities.

The Wallaby squad of 35 will be contracted to promote and endorse the ARU's sponsors. What they do is essentially no different from the type of thing done by other internationals around the world, the driving-force for the Australians being their desperation to keep their best players from the clutches of rugby league.

Coming on top of the New Zealand union's moves in the same direction - the All Blacks are thought to be negotiating for around £30,000 each for this World Cup year - and the overtly liberal payments regime in South Africa, the Australian contracts are infact no more than a logical progression.

The big difference is that the commercial activities into which the Wallabies have entered have had the enthusiastic support of their union whereas those of the England players, for instance, have not. These days, however, there is a Rugby Football Unionplayers' working party headed by the former England centre, Malcolm Phillips, attempting to increase the income of Will Carling's squad.

"We're trying to attract a major sponsor for next season but aren't in the market for anything like £40,000 per player," Phillips said. "We're looking in the £10,000-£15,000 area and the money will be paid by the sponsor to the players' company.

"But that's the sort of figure you don't give up a job for. The players don't want to be contracted professionals or be told what to do. As for this season, the squad seem happy with something in excess of £10,000 which comes from their off-field promotional activities on behalf of the current batch of sponsors. New arrangements or fresh deals will be negotiated after the World Cup."

The ARU plan will require the approval of the International Board, whose annual meeting takes place in Bristol next month. It can be safely assumed that they have done their research to ensure its compliance with the current "amateur" regulations - just like when it staged a gala dinner that, as an off-field activity, earned the "amateur" squad a perfectly legitimate £250,000.

Deciding on an unchanged team to face France in Paris on Saturday week did not detain the Scotland selectors long yesterday after last Saturday's defeat of Ireland, the only difference being Doddie Weir's return to the bench after injury.

The Scots are thought to be looking for a bigger back row to compete with England's and a pointer to possible future thinking will come when Weir, who has been capped at No 8 and lock, plays on the blind side for Melrose for the first time in Saturday's game against West of Scotland.

Laurent Benezech, the France prop hurt during the defeat at Twickenham, will miss the match after having an operation this week for a detached retina. The French team will now be named today, as will Wales's to play England in Cardiff.

SCOTLAND (v France, Paris, 18 February): G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), G Townsend (Gala), I Jardine, K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers, B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), D Cronin(Bourges), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), E Peters (Bath), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), G Shiel (Melrose), D Patterson (West Hartlepool), P Burnell (London Scottish), K McKenzie (Stirling County), G Weir (Melrose).