End in sight to rugby's100-year war

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The Independent Online
AFTER one hundred years of the cold war between the two rugby codes, the first historic steps towards a rapprochement will be taken later this month. Vernon Pugh, chairman of the International Rugby Board, and Maurice Lindsay, the chief executive of the Rugby League, have set a date for a ground-breaking meeting at which the movement of players between the two games will be a major talking point.

Lindsay will meet Pugh and Keith Rowlands, the IRB secretary, in the last week of January in London at either Pugh's chambers in Gray's Inn or at the East India Club. It is the first time that senior representatives of the two codes have met on an official basis since the great schism of 1895 when rugby league was founded.

The initiative for the meeting came from the IRB and has been welcomed by Lindsay. The idea for the IRB to approach the Rugby League came from an IRB policy committee meeting last March. When the IRB last met, in Vancouver in October, it was agreed that Pugh should make contact with Lindsay.

The two have never met or even spoken to each other. Pugh said yesterday that there may be more meetings between officials of the two codes. "The link between union and league is such, I believe, that it makes good sense that we have a continuing dialogue," Pugh said, acknowledging that the talks may not go down well in some union circles. "I suspect in one or two places it might be looked on as heresy."

Player movement between the two codes, said Pugh, will be on the agenda. Rugby union's regulations at present forbid players moving from league to union. At the IRB meeting in October, the possibility of players being able to move from league to union was discussed. This now appears to be more likely.

Dudley Wood, secretary of the Rugby Union, said yesterday that he had not been informed of the proposed meeting. "If a player were to be able to play professionally and then come back and play as an amateur, that would be the end of amateurism," he said.

"It is a possibility one has to envisage and that would be very sad."

The future of the two codes is also on the agenda. "The possibilities are that the games may continue to be wholly independent, or it may be in the future that rugby union comes closer to rugby league," Pugh said.

Lindsay said that he was "delighted" about the initiative. "I understand that Mr Pugh is a very relaxed, almost visionary individual. I am by no means a one-eyed rugby league man. If we can bring some measures that will benefit both of the codes, then I will do my utmost to help both union and league. It may be looking too far ahead, but if anyone wants to discuss the possibility of a single code, I'd be happy to talk to them."

Many players will welcome the break-down of the barriers. A leading Welsh convert to league said yesterday: "It is much better for the codes to sort out their differences instead of being at each other's throats, because one day someone is going to take them to court and it is going to be very expensive to settle."