Concessions will help RFU to keep unity

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Tony Hallett, the Rugby Football Union secretary, said last night Twickenham is prepared to make concessions to English First Division Rugby Ltd to avoid a split in the union ranks.

With the weekend's reconvened Special General Meeting in Birmingham just a few days away, there was a suspicion that someone had pressed the panic button at headquarters after the RFU executive committee chairman, Cliff Brittle, issued a statement yesterday appealing for unity.

"There has recently been much speculation in the press and rugby clubhouses about the top English clubs wishing to run their own affairs apart from the RFU," Brittle said. "It is vital to the future of our game that we stay together."

To this end Brittle said the RFU had held two meetings with representatives of EFDR and further talks are planned for tomorrow and 31 March. Hallett acknowledged: "There is an urgency about all this and there will have to be concessions on both sides, on the structure of the season as well as in the management and control areas."

There are three potential sticking points: EFDR voted nine to one in favour of increasing the First Division from 10 to 12 clubs - the RFU is not keen; the clubs want some midweek European games - the RFU's provisional structure for next season sees European competition taking place on Saturdays; EFDR believes that players should be contracted to their clubs, with allowances made for international and representative duties.

There is every chance that the RFU will back down on at least one of those issues. "The ambitions of a structured season from a club and country perspective point to midweek rugby," Hallett said. But the rest will not be easy given Brittle's final paragraph in which he says: "...we will be persuading [the clubs] that unity within the RFU is the only way forward. We will be determined because this is a vital time for the future of English rugby."

The battle lines were drawn up later yesterday when the EFDR chairman, Donald Kerr, said: "We wish to stay under the umbrella of the RFU. There is simply no need for in-fighting if sense prevails. We certainly don't want conflict. But the RFU must understand our position. We are not seeking revolution, just the chance to organise our own business affairs under the RFU's auspices. Twickenham has become a major business for the RFU to operate and run; we merely seek the same arrangement for our own club affairs."

Mike Catt's determination to play only at full-back for Bath has received another setback with his selection at outside-half for the Pilkington Cup semi-final at home to Gloucester on Saturday. That is because Richard Butland suffered a rib injury in England Students' defeat against their Irish counterparts last week.

Gloucester have named the England Under-21 cap Mark Mapletoft at full- back for the tie. It will be his first competitive match for more than 14 months following major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

Wasps and Swansea will not be representing Britain in a global tournament in California in May after the United States RFU outlawed the proposed World Club Championship.

Bristol hope members will carry a proposal to turn themselves into a private limited company at an SGM on Friday.