Carling concerned over delay

Rugby Union
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The two men who led England to last season's Five Nations' Championship yesterday drew a bleak picture of a side seriously undermined by the continuing hostilities between the Rugby Football Union and its rebellious leading clubs.

Jack Rowell, the coach, and Will Carling, the former captain, expressed deep concern over the disruption caused by the interminable political wrangling.

Carling, who has made no secret of his loyalty to the England cause and his outright opposition to any attempt by the clubs to withdraw players from national duties, feared the delay in the appointment of a new captain was beginning to have a serious effect on the fabric of the squad.

"This team needs a captain," he said. "The longer this goes on, the more the new man will have on his plate. He needs to learn the ropes and stamp his personality on the side."

Rowell also registered his anxiety at the inability of the RFU and the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, the umbrella organisation representing clubs from England's top two divisions, to find common ground. "We haven't played for six months and our opening international against Italy is in effect only a few training hours away.

"I have thought carefully about who should captain the side but if he were to be appointed now he would be asked to take sides and would be in an impossible position."

Both men played down the possibility of squad members being instructed by their clubs to withdraw from the Italy match, which takes place at Twickenham on 23 November.

No one from Epruc publicly raised the prospect of a mass withdrawal following the breakdown of talks with the governing body on Tuesday afternoon, but that did not stop the RFU negotiators using an alleged threat to do so as a weapon as they stated their case at Twickenham yesterday.

John Richardson, the RFU president, insisted the Italy game would go ahead irrespective of any "industrial action" by the Epruc-contracted players.

Tuesday's talks hit the buffers when Epruc claimed the RFU had altered crucial clauses in a draft settlement agreed on 14 October. The RFU team denied reneging on any agreement but Epruc officials intend to produce incontrovertible proof at a press conference today.

The current RFU blueprint offers the clubs all revenue raised from competitions in which they participate and suggests the establishment of a new company to administer senior club rugby. The company would be owned jointly by the two sides with the board being made up of six club directors and two RFU representatives.

Yet the proposals also contain a catch-all clause that effectively gives the RFU an unchallengeable veto over any club initiatives and Epruc officials are deeply concerned at their perceived lack of real power.

Richardson confirmed the RFU would now send a copy of the draft agreement to individual Epruc clubs - an obvious attempt to weaken the organisation's authority. National squad members were given copies after yesterday's training session at Henley.

The National Clubs Association, which represents the clubs from the English Third Division down, have allied themselves firmly with the RFU. Brian Baister, the NCA chairman, said: "My association stands full square behind the RFU. I have no hesitation in saying that the proposed agreement gives Epruc infinitely more control of the professional game than was ever contemplated by us."