Cotton leads Lions into professional era

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Whatever the outcome of the arguments over next year's Five Nations' Championship, at least one Englishman will line up alongside Welsh, Irish and Scots players at the end of the season. Fran Cotton, 48, the former England prop, will be the manager of the 1997 Lions trip to South Africa, the first professional tour organised by the four home unions.

Ray Williams, chairman of the four home unions' tours committee, said that England will remain at the heart of the Lions. "This is the new four home unions committee," he announced, "which, thank God, has nothing to do with the Five Nations. All of us here are on exceptionally good terms."

Since Cotton, a member of the victorious Lions tour to South Africa in 1974, will be chairman of the selection committee both before and on tour, there is little likelihood of talented England players being ignored. Provided, that is, that they are happy with his appointment. Cotton was a staunch supporter of Cliff Brittle and was co-opted by the controversial RFU executive chairman to attend the often angry negotiations with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs.

Clearly, though, having beaten his old captain, Bill Beaumont, and Scotland's Duncan Patterson to the post, Cotton, who played in England's 1980 Grand Slam side, and on two Lions tours, has come to terms with professionalism.

However he is aware of the toll the new world might take. "The last thing we want is to climb aboard the Jumbo with everyone held together by sticking plaster," he said. "We have to deal with unions, clubs and players and outline a responsible attitude to preparation. Once the party has been picked - towards the end of March - we will look carefully at individual players' schedules." Which could involve another bout of interesting negotiations with the clubs.

The last Lions tour to New Zealand cost the four home unions more than pounds 200,000. This time they will be sponsored, and the South African RFU president, Louis Luyt, is ready to discuss some form of share-out of funds (presumably gate money and broadcasting fees).

Then there are the payments for the players themselves. No figures were being bandied about yesterday, but Cotton has clearly got some set ideas. He wants all 30 players to be treated equally. "Those not on the field during a Test can become demoralised," he said. "But they are just as important to the success of the tour. To pay different players on different lines would be totally divisive."

Cotton has avoided one early pitfall. His sports and leisurewear company, Cotton Traders, will not be kitting out the Lions. "About six months ago, long before I was nominated for this position," Cotton said, "we submitted a tender for the Lions contract, but we were not successful. I don't even know who did get it."


Wales lose again, page 24