Fracas threatens to fracture fragile peace fractured

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The Independent Online
Donald Kerr and Cliff Brittle, two of the leading figures in rugby's rival factions, yesterday engaged in a war of words that threatened the whole of the sensitive peace process and England's international preparations.

Kerr, the chairman of the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, was incensed at what appear to be unfounded reports of unrest among the northern clubs, who are supporters of Brittle and the Rugby Football Union.

He threatened to rescind a decision to release the players for the England training session at Bisham Abbey next Wednesday and then mounted a personal attack on the RFU chairman.

"We were quite happy for the players to go ahead with their preparations in the way they thought fit," Kerr said. "We were fairly relaxed about the players attending training. But we now find it too early to comment on whether we will release them. Unfortunately, Cliff Brittle has been active behind the scenes in undermining the whole peace process."

Brittle and the RFU countered strongly. "The accusations are untrue and misleading. Donald Kerr's reaction is irrational and unhelpful. If Epruc want to resolve their differences with the RFU they will release their players to play for England at the very least, to show goodwill."

Having already had the first England training session boycotted and a second cancelled, Jack Rowell's England plans are once again under threat. The next session is planned for next Wednesday with the first international of the season against Italy on 23 November.

Rowell, like the players, is caught in the middle. He said: "I intend to announce a squad comprising First and Second Division players and let the politics take care of themselves."

More stinging words for Epruc came from Scottish Rugby Union president, Fred McLeod. Epruc have effectively tried to buy the Scottish First Division clubs out of the control of the SRU with offers of substantial sums to join the English clubs in a European Rugby Federation.

"What Epruc has been suggesting, with offers of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, is misleading, mischievous and a recipe for consigning Scotland to the waste bin of world rugby," McLeod said.

European Rugby Cup Ltd, who are organising the Heineken Cup, are confident that ITV will not desert them. ITV are expected to announce whether they will back the competition to the tune of pounds 10m for a further two years, in the next 24 hours.

The Australians are optimistic they can turn their European tour into a Grand Slam by arranging a Test against England on either 2 November and 16 November.

Harlequins look to have obtained the services of the All Blacks Zinzan Brooke and Michael Jones for pounds 150,000 apiece over two years.

Phil Adams, already fined by his club, Bristol, faces a possible disrepute charge for stamping against Northampton. The RFU disciplinary officer, Roy Manock, is to review the case.

Llanelli, rather than Orrell, are likely to sign the former All Black Frano Botica. Orrell negotiated a two-year deal with Castleford rugby league club last March for the services of the 33-year-old stand-off in the union season, and he played in the opening three Courage League games for the First Division club. Llanelli are believed to have agreed a deal around pounds 85,000 to buy out Botica's contract from Castleford.