Clubs rebuff Packer

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Rugby Union

Officials at England's top two clubs have reacted with scepticism to reports linking their players with the Kerry Packer-backed World Rugby Corporation.

Peter Wheeler, the Leicester president and former England captain, who chaired an emergency meeting of Courage League One clubs earlier this week, said: "My understanding is that none of the Leicester players have signed for the circus."

Wheeler is, however, urging the Rugby Football Union to come up with a package for top players that will make them reject the Australian offer and reports yesterday suggested that the RFU are on the verge of offering contracts to every player in the First Division and not just England internationals.

Brian Ashton, the coach of the Pilkington Cup holders Bath, said: "I would be staggered if a full match squad of Bath players have signed [for Packer]. We are very close in this club and I have been chatting to our new manager, John Hall, who is as close to the players as you can get and he did not mention it."

Packer arrives in Britain tomorrow to meet the men who have been busy recruiting players for his World Rugby Championship. The shopping list has been for internationals, but the RFU's intention to offer pounds 25,000 across the board - a move which appears to have the support of the clubs - could be enough to make even the best think again. Under the scheme, the pounds 25,000 would be a flat rate, with England players earning an additional pounds 30,000.

"The future is on a knife edge for our game and the needs to come up with a positive blueprint," Wheeler said. It looks as though it has done just that.