England delay naming squad

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The Independent Online
The England selectors have postponed today's scheduled announcement of the international training squad, but the fact that they declared an intention to name it on Monday suggests the Rugby Football Union is edging nearer to a working relationship with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs after nine months of acrimony.

The RFU is keen to avoid the embarrassment of calling off another training session after the first was boycotted by the players and the second was cancelled. With the players threatening to ignore Wednesday's get-together at Bisham Abbey, the pressure on the RFU to sort out their differences with Epruc has been further increased by Australia's demand to play England when they visit these shores for a tour during which they play Wales.

The dispute is not helping the coach, Jack Rowell, to prepare his squad for the Test against Italy on 23 November. If the RFU give in to the entreaties of the Australian Rugby Union, who have offered two new possible dates for a Test, 2 or 16 November, Rowell will need every spare moment. The issue is so important to the Australians they are reported to have threatened to cancel the Test against Wales unless England are added to the tour.

The ARU chief executive, John O'Neill, admitted money played its part in the push to play England. "We're not ashamed to say there are financial objectives. I think these people need a big jolt. We all face enormous challenges in the professional era."

Hope for them came when Bob Weighill, secretary of the Four Home Unions Tours committee, said yesterday: "Every effort is being made to resolve the matter of whether an England v Australia fixture can be slotted into the tour programme."

The game's trouble transition to professional status sees Epruc under fire from Scotland, too. The Scottish Rugby Union has called a meeting of its First and Second Division clubs for 9 October to discuss whether its players and clubs should join Epruc.

In a letter signed by its president, Fred McLeod, the SRU warns of the "fatal attraction" in joining Epruc's breakaway, describing the move as one which "cares only for the bottom line of English club rugby, and most certainly cares nothing for Scottish rugby". The SRU's concern was heightened by a letter from Mike Smith, Epruc director and Saracens' chief executive, who does not believe the Scottish, Welsh and Irish clubs will be "box office".

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