Divisions earn the backing of Cotton

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

The former England players Fran Cotton and Tony Jorden have united in condemning calls to end divisional fixtures against touring teams.

In probably the last season of the CIS Divisional Championship, Cotton, the North chairman, and Jorden, the London manager, want to retain the divisions for matches against international sides.

Their stance has already received the backing of the Rugby Football Union Commission, which came out in favour of maintaining the divisional games against touring teams.

Cotton and Jorden described the pleas from the Leicester president, Peter Wheeler, and the Bath centre, Phil de Glanville, for a club-based fixture list against visiting countries as "born out of self-interest, not England's interest".

The Cotton-Jorden statement said: "There are probably only two or three clubs in the country that could provide appropriate opposition." They claim matches against touring sides should "be testing grounds for potential internationals".

"International rugby is played by representative teams, not club teams, and the only way to establish if a player can make the transition is to test him in a representative team," they added.

The former England prop and former England full-back pointed out that playing club rugby "means playing in familiar surroundings". "International rugby is not like that," they added.

They also state that clubs have multi-national line-ups - reducing the chance of English players facing stronger opposition. Cotton and Jorden also claim that England's strongest clubs - Leicester, Bath, Wasps and Harlequins - would benefit from the inclusion of players from other clubs into an area side.

They believe Transvaal should be appearing against divisions rather than clubs on their current tour and point out that six International Board nations field representative teams against tourists. However, they are willing to compromise and suggest that the Courage League champions and Pilkington Cup winners could be granted a game against touring countries.

Mike Rayer, who has started just two senior matches after being out for a year with a double break of his right leg, steps straight into European action at Stade Andre-Moga tonight when he lines up for Cardiff in their opening Heineken Cup Pool B match against Begles-Bordeaux.

The Wales full-back faces the formidable French club after games against Abertillery and Fiji, plus a couple of matches as a replacement.

By opting for the 30-year-old Rayer's experience ahead of Chris John, the Welsh club champions field a side containing 14 full internationals - the Wales A prop Andrew Lewis is the odd man out in a side missing the injured Jonathan Davies.