Clubs go it alone in talks with TV

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Having formed themselves into a limited company, English First Division clubs are already - quite separately from the Rugby Football Union - talking to television companies so they can at least get some idea of how much money they will have to finance a professional game next season.

Far from being as emollient about their stand-off with the RFU as Tony Hallett, the union's secretary, the clubs are growing increasingly impatient for their governing body to come up with figures or let them get on with it.

With parallel developments taking place in Wales and France, and even the Scots clubs growing disillusioned, talk of clubs attempting to proceed independently is less fanciful than it once appeared. "It's over-alarmist to predict a split but we must know that if it came to the crunch we could do it - and they must know that if it came to the crunch we would do it," Peter Wheeler, the president of Leicester, said yesterday.

Wheeler is in regular contact with Hallett on behalf of the First Division clubs, who have declined to take a formal part in the RFU's commission on professionalism and instead are drawing up their own proposals. "We strongly believe it's going to be in both the union's and the clubs' interest for us to be doing things together," Wheeler said.

"But we desperately need to know as quickly as possible what income the clubs are going to get next year from the competitions in which they play, because in the meantime other clubs can come in and pick off our players. We are sitting here with players who are being made all sorts of offers and it's very unsettling."

The introduction of Sir John Hall's millions into Newcastle is the principal cause of Wheeler's concern, making it a neat irony that the clubs are using Sir John's business acumen in their various negotiations.

The clubs see entry into a European competition next season as an essential means of underwriting professionalism and are concerned that the tension souring relations between the RFU and the rest of the Five Nations may yet block English participation.

"I'm not sure whether the European competition isn't just a pawn in the RFU's game," Wheeler said. "But we need there to be a European competition because of the income it can generate, even if the union doesn't like the way it is set up."

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