England still out in cold after talks founder

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Rugby Union

After a five-hour meeting in Cardiff last night, England failed to reach agreement with Wales, Scotland and Ireland over their controversial BSkyB deal and will have to go away and come up with fresh proposals to persuade the other Home Unions to reinstate them into the Five Nations' Championship.

Officials from the four countries failed to make the progress that would have offered England a way back after they were expelled from the competition earlier this month.

Sir Tasker Watkins, president of the Welsh , who hosted the meeting, said: "There's been a frank exchange of views between the four Unions. The differences which divide them have not been resolved this evening so far.

"However, the president of the and his colleagues will urgently consult with their executive committee with a view to seeking fresh proposals for submission to a meeting of the Five Nations."

Sir Tasker said the issue would be discussed at a scheduled meeting in London of the Five Nations Committee today, when the French will be in attendance. He added that he did not expect it to be resolved today, although he was "hopeful".

John Richardson, the new president of the RFU, was reluctant to speak, even though he had instigated the high-powered get-together. "I need to ascertain the views of colleagues, but I don't want to jeopardise further negotiations," he said. "I hope to bring good news to everybody. We are trying to be positive."

The failure of this summit means that England are still excluded from the Five Nations and the possibility comes ever closer that their scheduled 1997 opener against Scotland in February will be one of many cancellations.

England were thrown out of the Five Nations 10 days ago after they had made an independent deal with Sky for their Five Nations matches. Presidents, treasurers and TV negotiators from the four countries were called to the meeting as England tried to convince their European partners that the principle of selling TV rights to Sky was the way forward and that everybody could profit as Twickenham led the way with an pounds 87.5m pay-out.

Officials from the other nations had arrived earlier in a sceptical mood, Fred McLeod, Scotland's new president saying: "England have called the meeting and we await with interest their proposals."

Cliff Brittle, chairman of the RFU executive committee, was confident that he would be re-visiting Wales for a traditional Five Nations championship game here with England fully restored next winter.

There was a fresh problem for the Welsh to counter yesterday as their leading clubs agreed a reported pounds 22m deal with BSkyB for the televising of matches.

First Division Rugby Limited, an organisation of the top 12 Welsh clubs, claimed yesterday that each of their members will receive pounds 1.85m during the course of the five-year contract.

That drew a rapid response from the WRU chairman, Vernon Pugh, who said that the clubs' decision reneged on a recent agreement between the two bodies and could lead to the clubs losing their Union membership. But Pugh also said that he believed the reputed package to be a "misunderstanding" and that the pact between the Union and their clubs formed a firm commitment to work together.

"We have received no official notification from First Division Rugby Limited and I do not believe they would even contemplate negotiating their own television agreement," said Pugh. "That would be wholly contrary to what the Welsh has agreed with representatives of its senior clubs, men we believe to be honourable people.

"Under the International Rugby Football Board, and the WRU's own constitution, only the Union can sell any broadcasting rights to matches in which their clubs play. That position has not altered and will not alter. We look forward to what must be a misunderstanding being cleared up."

However, the FDRL believe the matter is settled - at least in principle. "We were invited by the WRU to consider the options available to us. We have done so carefully. No other option that has been promoted to us is as attractive."