Foolish pride is the enemy of the Five Nations

The threat of isolation should force the RFU to join the players in the professional era, says Tony Underwood
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The Independent Online
I wonder how many of the England squad members are booking some time off in the winter sun - a golden opportunity presented to them by their erstwhile guardians the Rugby Football Union. Apart from this questionable gesture the RFU has managed to win few friends this year, handling the transition enforced by the international rugby board with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.

You may argue that this is indeed the problem - the RFU has become, through 100 years of stagnation, the wrong animal in the wrong arena.

Change was imminent when in a quest to streamline the behemoth, the enlightened formed the executive committee, awarding it sweeping powers. However, the behemoth bit back by placing one of its own, Cliff Brittle, at its head. What followed has been the power struggle familiar to most captains of industry.

And so it should, for that is exactly what rugby is now - a big industry. And common to them all is control of money. Rugby has become a multi-million pound business, and on the debit side the RFU have a new stadium and a new wage bill, amongst other things. Hence a battle with the clubs to control what goes out to them and now a battle with the Home Unions to maximise what comes in.

No one would argue against the semantics of this but the fallout has come about from the way their business has been conducted. On the line in the first battle were the players, for without agreement with the clubs, who are now paying the players, they would not be available. Having secured them, the RFU are now locked into difficulties about who we play and for how much.

The issue of whether England deserve the lion's share of television moneys is a minefield in itself, but for our union to broker such a deal alone smacks of the sort of arrogance of which the Celts accuse us of from the boardroom to the playing field. One can understand their frustrations.

Dialogue is essential and, thankfully, to be instigated by all concerned. I just hope that none of the high-handed behaviour apparent in earlier negotiations with the clubs displays itself here.

Meanwhile bluff and counter-bluff is traded. The Celts will play a Four Nations. The French want still to play an unofficial Test against England. The southern hemisphere are reluctant to include England in their Tri Nations tournament. Whilst Sky TV is still happy.

The reality is that no one is happy the way things stand. Everyone wants the same thing - a Five Nations. So it will happen unless foolish pride or foolish ego gets in the way. If it does and England remain ousted then who would bet against the spectre of the first battle rearing its ugly head again?

Talk of a club breakaway would then probably have the support of the other unions, keen to broker a deal with a more enlightened and less intransigent body.

Whatever, this is an issue that will not go away until the RFU fully acknowledge and appreciate the change this sport has gone through. The game is now played at two distinct and different levels, professional and amateur, and the sooner it is administered as such the better. Until such time the needs of one will bleed the other when they could live together harmoniously.

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