Resolution of the bitter stand-off between the Rugby Football Union and its leading clubs over the administration and financing of professional rugby moved significantly nearer last night after a meeting of minds between the clubs and the RFU president, Bill Bishop, in the absence of the clubs' bete noire, Cliff Brittle.
Bishop was present in his role as independent chairman appointed by the RFU executive but Brittle, chairman of that executive, and the other two members of his negotiating team, had boycotted the meeting on the tenuous grounds that the full financial package required by the meeting's agenda had not been submitted.
Evidently, the talks made more progress without Brittle, Malcolm Phillips and Fran Cotton than they would have done with them. Both Bishop and Brittle say they want to hold another meeting as soon as possible, but for now the chasm within the RFU about how to deal with the recalcitrant clubs has been made fully public. Bishop has in effect usurped Brittle as the union negotiator.
It was Bishop's decision to proceed without Brittle. Should the executive chairman, who last night described the original meeting as having been postponed, seek to be obstructive the president is now likely to go direct to the executive, which is overwhelmingly opposed to Brittle's intransigent stance.
Indeed Bishop, whose appointment to chair the talks was in direct contravention of Brittle's wishes, was so encouraged that he was able to forecast a settlement of the union's differences with the First and Second Division clubs' umbrella body, Epruc, which has already announced a boycott of next season's RFU competitions and will secede unless there is a settlement.
This will still require the clubs' gaining effective control of the competitions in which they participate and the sponsorship and broadcasting money from them, but it seems that they will now be accommodated. "The senior clubs wish to remain within the RFU and to play European and domestic competitions subject to refinement of the [RFU's] competitive structure," Bishop said last night.
"The senior clubs clearly recognise the aspirations of players to play international and representative rugby and wish to facilitate that process. No insurmountable problems are perceived. I trust this statement is greatly reassuring to the game and will allow us to be united in proceeding towards next season."Reuse content