England players in show of support

Rugby Union
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The wrangling between England and the four other members of the Five Nations was something of a molehill when compared with the mountain that has to be overcome this week in order to prevent a breakaway from the Rugby Football Union by the leading clubs.

If England's restoration to the Five Nations Championship, details of which are to be announced in Dublin today, gives Twickenham additional ammunition in the struggle to win back the players, the indications are that it may have come too late.

Yesterday, two representatives of England's squad, described as senior internationals, met with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, to reaffirm the players' support of Epruc's stand for fiscal and administrative independence.

The players' boycott of last week's England training session and their threatened absence from next Wednesday's means that a clause in their club contracts stating that players will be released for international training and matches is likely to be nullified.

Effectively, those contracts, which were originally approved by the RFU, have been rewritten to exclude the release clause. The players have therefore become voluntary hostages to fortune.

On Friday, the full RFU committee voted unanimously to try to seek an urgent meeting with Epruc officials. It is likely that an initial meeting will take place today at which the RFU will nominate a team of four negotiators who will then be expected to present an agreement to another special full committee meeting by Friday.

The timescale is Epruc's. They point out that they have been seeking this sort of session for nine months. The clubs, who engineered the England boycott as a show of strength, want autonomy for the day-to-day running of their competitions. They want to keep the money they receive from sponsorship and broadcasting, although one leading club official said that they were quite prepared to make a modest percentage of their revenue over to Twickenham for administrative costs.

However, they see the RFU's role as one of catering to the needs of clubs in the lower divisions and organising representative games.

A leading Epruc official was pessimistic about agreement being reached. "We are looking for three quarters in this dispute," he said. "The RFU want us to have a quarter." Fractions for factions to fight over.