Bristol first to offer the money

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Bristol stole a march on the rest of the English First Division last night when they announced the embrace of "full professionalism" as soon as the Rugby Football Union would allow - which at the moment is next season, at the end of the RFU's moratorium on club payment.

This is the club's response to the depredations of other clubs who have been seeking or have already taken their players. A gaggle of old boys headed by Derek Eves, the former captain, has already dropped into the Third Division with Coventry, and Newcastle of the Second Division have been trying to sign Garath Archer, Martin Corry and Alan Sharp.

All three have now turned down the money - between pounds 30,000 and pounds 40,000 a year - being offered by Rob Andrew, Newcastle's development director, in favour of a deal with Bristol which could be worth pounds 50,000 each per season.

Such a substantial sum would be dependent on where Bristol finished in the Courage Championship as well as bonuses earned by winning league and cup matches and achieving individual representative honours.

Bristol's search for the capital to fund this bold venture begins now, headed by Derek Brown, the businessman who ousted the former England scrum-half and selector, Bill Redwood, as chairman during the summer.

"Bristol Football Club has decided to take the initiative to ensure that its rise to the top of the rugby union ladder is not restrained by approaches to its players by other clubs," Brown said last night. "Bristol is well- positioned to meet all the requirements of the new game, and its young squad appears to be going from strength to strength.

"The general committee of the club is determined to lead the way into the new era and has already agreed with its players a structure that will lead to a smooth transition to full professionalism next season. Lucrative employment contracts will be prepared for all first-team squad players which will include provision for past loyalty and commitment."

Bristol have thus put in place something everyone else is still talking about while impatiently awaiting RFU guidance. They were stirred into action by the sight of their players making a procession to the North- east for talks with Andrew, who has yet to announce any Newcastle signing other than himself.

Archer and Corry, England Under-21 forwards last season, were prime targets since they have only just left Newcastle for Bristol. Despite being unemployed, even Sharp, Bristolian to the core but six times a Scotland prop, could not be tempted once Bristol had put their own package together.

Also influential was the RFU's much-criticised 120-day qualification period and Newcastle's increasingly parlous position in the Second Division. "Rob has asked me to take too big a risk of dropping down a league for at least half a season when I've set my sights on the international scene," Corry said.

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