Conflict on the agenda: What the annual meeting will decide

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The Independent Online
The annual general meeting of the Rugby Football Union is normally a good-natured gathering of England's senior administrators. Occasionally there is a debate and sometimes the exchanges are robust but, like the most keenly contested match, the antagonists are always the best of friends afterwards in the bar.

Friday's get-together at the London Hilton Hotel, however, threatens to be as much of a departure from tradition as was the game's conversion to professionalism. The top end of English rugby is bitterly split into two factions. On the one side is Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the RFU's executive committee, who claims to represent grass-roots interest and is supported by, among others, the triumphant Lions manager Fran Cotton. In the other corner is the majority of the executive committee who have put forward one of their own, Bob Rogers, as an alternative chairman. In the middle is Tony Hallett, the RFU's secretary and its chief executive designate.

After months of public sniping in a war of words which has become increasingly personal and vitriolic, this week's AGM should decide which opponent is victorious. At issue is an accusation that Hallett deliberately misled Brittle before last year's AGM over the RFU's abortive pounds 87.5m TV deal with BSkyB which nearly resulted in England's expulsion from the Five Nations' Championship.

On the agenda is a proposal from Brittle supporters that the chairman of the executive committee, or management board as it is to become, should have "full authority to represent the Union ... and shall oversee the chief executive in the discharge of his delegated duties and responsibilities". The Brittle camp also want the chief executive's job to be advertised with a selection panel set up to handle the applications; an independent inquiry into how the RFU conducts commercial negotiations such as the BSkyB deal; and justifications to be given for the RFU's recent legal and PR fees.

Whatever the outcome, the wounds will take time to heal and the bar afterwards is unlikely to be its usual haven of conviviality.