England's top clubs have finally lost patience at the failure of the Rugby Football Union to agree a meeting with them to thrash out who runs the game at the top level.
"Sort it out or get out" was the message Donald Kerr, the chairman of the English Professional Clubs, delivered yesterday to Cliff Brittle, his opposite number on the RFU negotiating committee.
Topics such as television rights, sponsorship and the structure of the season must be discussed, and time is running out. The moratorium on professionalism ends on 6 May, after that it is every man (and club) for himself. But despite a stated preference by Brittle (and by extension, the RFU) to sort things out quickly there have been no meetings between the sides this week, nor are any planned for next.
"We have tried to arrange a date this week," Kerr said, "but Brittle told us his diary is too full. He has no sense of urgency and we are very concerned. In fact we are very angry. The game is going to come out terribly damaged. This guy is stopping the whole process.
"If we could sit down with RFU president Bill Bishop and secretary Tony Hallett, this whole thing would be sorted out in five minutes. Brittle is trying to be president, chairman and chief executive and it's unhealthy and wrong for English rugby."
There was supposed to have been one get-together this week mediated by leading England players. There have been distractions, not least the RFU's own declaration of independence from the Five Nations committee regarding negotiation of broadcasting rights. There is also the rumoured split in the ranks following the co-opting of Bishop on to the RFU's committee which is supposed to be negotiating with the clubs. There are suggestions that Brittle is so opposed to Bishop that he may not let the president attend all the meetings with the top clubs.
Meanwhile, following demands by Pilkington Cup finalists Bath and Leicester for more money for the 4 May showdown at Twickenham there are suggestions that the RFU is considering raising the price of the Cup final programme from pounds 2.00 to pounds 3.00. Programme sales are expected to be about 70 per cent of the sell-out 75,000 crowd.
But before the finalists, who were reported want around an extra pounds 10,000 above the pounds 40,000 put up by Pilkington, start rubbing their hands, the RFU marketing director, Richard Field, yesterday denied that the price hike would be as high.
n Francois Pienaar, who captained South Africa to World Cup victory, will lead the Barbarians against Ireland in a fund-raising "Peace International" at Lansdowne Road on 18 May.Reuse content