England's warning to players

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
England's defiant international squad have been warned to attend next week's training session after boycotting the first of the season in favour of a meeting called by the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs .

The players will stage a get-together at the end of this week with their clubs' organisation as the internal row rumbles on despite the settlement of the Five Nations feud. They will decide on a policy about future relationships with Twickenham - specifically whether to turn up to next week's training session.

Last week more than 40 players declined to go to Bisham Abbey and the squad session was cancelled. Instead, the squad attended a meeting with Epruc at which they agreed to their employers' "vision for the future". That vision involved "complete independence" from the RFU by First and Second Division clubs.

The RFU, probably reluctantly, allowed the players to get away unpenalised with their unique strike action. They may not be so lenient if a second squad session is disrupted.

The RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, said: "I'm expecting them to turn up. I believe Epruc made a serious gesture last time. They wanted to make it clear to us that, when they were talking about a breakaway, they were serious. They are putting a considerable amount of investment into the playing strengths of this country and they want that recognition. We have got to accept it. Contracts for players are due out this week. Clubs don't know, nor do the players, what will be on the table. It's a lot better than last year."

Hallett is also confident about sorting out the Epruc dispute, saying: "The gloves may be off but we are still talking. I don't believe the clubs wish to break away and I believe most strongly that the players want to play for England, they don't want to be caught in the crossfire."

He admitted that the selectors would choose an England team from outside the top two divisions if the dispute cannot be settled. "In the doomsday scenario, we would have to pick the best that was available in England," he said. "We would have to keep international representative sides going. I don't believe it would ever come to that. There is too much pride, too much heart in playing for England. Most people would play for nothing."

Australia are still hopeful they can ressurrect a fixture against England at Twickenham in December. Australia's Rugby Union chief executive, John O'Neill, said he would speak to his English counterparts in a bid to include the match on their European tour schedule.

Australia, who have already scheduled Tests against Ireland, Wales and Scotland during their eight-week European tour, announced on Tuesday that they would play England on 7 December. But the Four Home Unions Tour Committee chairman, Ray Williams, dismissed the announcement, saying it was too late to change the tour schedule. O'Neill, who is keen for the Wallabies to complete their first Grand Slam tour since 1984, said: "The Rugby Football Union has got a meeting on Friday where they are going to consider the matter."

Ireland's match against Australia has been brought forward one week to 23 November. The change in date was made in response to a request from the Welsh Rugby Union for one of the six matches that had been allocated to Ireland for the tour. Ireland surrendered the fixture between Ireland A and the Wallabies on 26 November and in return will have a match against the All Blacks next season.

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