Clubs to embrace divisionals

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Now that all the fuss surrounding Phil de Glanville's appointment as England captain has subsided, at least until next week's build-up to the Italy international begins in earnest, rugby's politicians are ready to return to their accustomed place on centre stage. But after nine months in which no one has managed to agree with anybody about anything, tomorrow's meeting of the leading Courage League clubs in Northampton will have a conciliatory air about it.

Epruc, the umbrella organisation representing the senior English professional clubs, is still in dispute with the Rugby Football Union over money and broadcasting rights and would, given half a chance, disagree with the governing body about the best way to solve the crisis in Zaire as well. Tomorrow, however, Epruc is expected to soften its stance by holding out an olive branch - even an entire olive tree - to the RFU.

Signals from inside the Epruc camp suggest that the clubs will abandon their militant resistance to the forthcoming programme of divisional matches with three touring sides - Queensland, the Junior Springboks and Argentina - and release both players and facilities. Such a move would save the RFU the considerable embarrassment of fielding pitifully under-strength teams against high-quality sides who have flown thousands of miles in search of meaningful competition.

In addition, the clubs are likely to agree to the RFU vetoes enshrined in the now infamous document foisted on the rebels at the brief and bad- tempered meeting between the two sides on 22 October. "All we want is some sort of formal definition of how, and under what circumstances, the vetoes might be applied," one Epruc source said yesterday.

If the member clubs unite behind a slightly amended version of the RFU document tomorrow, Epruc will seek an early meeting in an attempt to reach a final settlement.

However, a further controversy is looming over the fixture congestion caused by Ireland's and, to a lesser extent, Scotland's international commitments. Last week, four major league fixtures were cancelled because of an Ireland squad session and unless some compromise is hammered out quickly, the same situation will arise on 28 December, 4 and 18 January - dates on which Bristol, Saracens, London Irish and Newcastle among others, will expect to field their Celtic exiles in vital club matches.

England announced a 40-man A squad yesterday for next month's rapid-fire trio of matches against the southern hemisphere tourists. Newcomers include the impressive Gloucester full-back Chris Catling, the Harlequins' scrum- half Nick Walshe and, intriguingly, Andrew Lucking, the Edinburgh-based second row. Lucking, a medical student at the city's university, represented Edinburgh in the European Cup. However, his Celtic associations go no further than that; as far as England are concerned, he is one of theirs.

Bath will be without two key players in Saturday's European Cup quarter- final at Cardiff. The flanker Richard Webster has broken a knuckle joint on his right hand, while the hooker Graham Dawe has a dislocated elbow.

England A squad, Digest, page 27