Clubs shun RFU talks

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S top 20 clubs will boycott today's meeting of the first five divisions called by the RFU. Donald Kerr, the chairman of English professional rugby union clubs, representing clubs from the top two divisions, said: "We have informed the officers that we will not be attending." The boycott is seen simply as a gesture by the elite clubs though they still intend continuing negotiations over European competition and TV deals with administrators next week.

On the field, the descent of West Hartlepool into Courage League Two looks inevitable following yesterday's 41-31 home defeat by their relegation rivals Saracens.

The north-eastern club, hammered 91-21 by Harlequins last weekend, showed more backbone this time before succumbing once again to the visiting fly- half Andy Lee, who added 23 points to the 26 he scored against the same opponents in October. West Hartlepool, beaten in all 13 of their league fixtures this season, now trail third from bottom Saracens by 10 points with only five games remaining and will need a miracle, or the abolition of relegation, to survive.

The north London club's survival chances were further improved when Gloucester, the side sandwiched between themselves and West Hartlepool in the table, lost 21-10 at Wasps. Shane Roiser ran in two tries as Wasps moved above Sale into fourth, a position expected to yield a spot in next season's European Cup.

In League Two, second-placed London Irish, 31-19 winners at Wakefield, moved four points clear of London Scottish, who lost 21-19 at Bedford, and are firm favourites to go up with Northampton, who sealed their promotion to League One with a 24-10 victory at Blackheath.

Teams representing North and South Islands will meet in a benefit match at Rosslyn Park today (2pm). Hika Reid, the former All Blacks hooker, joins 29 other British-based New Zealanders to raise funds for their wheelchair-bound countryman Michael Storey, 28, who was knocked over by a car last year.

lAt President Mandela's request, South Africa's National Sports Council have retained the Springbok as the emblem of the country's rugby team despite its associations with apartheid.