Clubs 'could go bust'

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The Independent Online
Several leading clubs could face bankruptcy if the dispute which has dominated English club rugby over the past year is not resolved soon, warns England's most capped outside-half and now director of rugby at Newcastle, Rob Andrew.

After a week in which littleprogress was made by EnglishProfessional Rugby Union Clubs and the Rugby Football Union towards settling their differences, Andrew said: "There is a serious danger of clubs going bust by Christmas. Time is running out and the game desperately needs to be properly structured and administered. But I believe both sides want this settled. The England players feel this as well - that's why they went to last week's squad session," added Andrew, who has turned his team into potential second division champions with the aid of Sir John Hall's cheque-book.

Andrew defended the England squad's boycott of the season's first two training sessions, and takes issue with recent accusations by Fran Cotton, who will manage next summer's British Lions party in South Africa, that Epruc's chairman, Donald Kerr, is running a police state. "Nobody is trying to hijack the game and I think Fran Cotton's outburst was a bit emotional. The decision for rugby to go open certainly wasn't made by Sir John Hall or Donald Kerr.

"The future of paid rugby is as a club-based game but rugby has a strong club culture and it got even stronger when the RFU introduced leagues. Nobody gets worked up about the county or divisional game, but players have enormous loyalty towards their clubs. Even more so now they are being paid by them. There is very little representation on the RFU's committee for the clubs so we were forced to create our own voice piece. That is how Epruc came about.

"The England squad feel sticking together as a group is the right thing to do so nobody prejudices his chances in the long run. Rowell recognises this and won't name the England captain until everything is sorted out because the guy would become a piggy in the middle."

Epruc is often being accused of being greedy, but Andrew feels that criticism can be made of the unions too. "What was the point of last week's Wales-France match? It had no meaning and was only played to fill the coffers. Fixtures are imposed on us from high and from five different directions. And the countries don't co-ordinate their squad sessions. Clive Woodward complained the other week about his players at London Irish having to play a trial match in Ireland the day after a league game, which was ridiculous.

"We want some autonomy over the competitions we play in, and to be involved with the running of the European Cup. They are the matches that attract TV cameras and sponsors. What happens at the moment, though, is a bit like asking Manchester United and Newcastle to play against each other and then give all their sponsorship money to the FA."