Future fading for England

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Hopes were fading last night for England's return to the Five Nations fold. Delegates of the other four unions, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, were locked in talks discussing the latest offer from Twickenham to try to resolve the issue and get England reinstated into the Five Nations' Championship. It is expected that English rugby will discover its fate this morning when a statement will be made.

Even before going into the meeting, the Scottish Rugby Union president, Fred McLeod, was pessimistic as to the outcome. "If I had my way, this would be the last meeting. The talking just has to stop. We've been going at this for months now and we've got a season under way," McLeod said on BBC radio yesterday.

"We expect to receive a response from the Rugby Football Union on their discussions with Sky, with a view to unscrambling the contract they have at the moment to enable the Five Nations television committee to negotiate the rights to future Five Nations' Championships, including the one coming up.

"But it's been strangely quiet in Twickenham over the last week or two, and I must say my optimism is turning to pessimism. I don't know whether it is the RFU's attitude that is hardening or whether it is Sky's, who, with a contract in place, see no good reason to change the contract."

McLeod insisted that the key lay with whether BSkyB, which has a pounds 87.5m five-year deal for exclusive broadcasting rights to all matches in England, is prepared to cede its rights as far as the Five Nations goes. "We are not worried about all the other matches," McLeod said.

"If we can just negotiate the principles of the sharing of TV rights for the Five Nations then we can go forward. Otherwise I suspect the other four unions will decide to go it alone and I would then expect to be announcing that there will be a Four Nations' championship, home and away."

Twickenham yesterday refuted claims by the Welsh Rugby Union chairman, Vernon Pugh, that the proposed Anglo-Welsh club tournament was not officially sanctioned by the RFU. Pugh has told the Welsh clubs not to participate in the inaugural event because of the apparent lack of official backing.

But the RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, said: "As far as English clubs are concerned, the tournament is wholly legitimate and sanctioned by the RFU."

Will Carling and his multi-capped colleagues in England's three-quarter line, Jeremy Guscott and Rory Underwood, will learn today, when the first England squad is named, whether they are part of the manager Jack Rowell's early-season plans.

During the summer the trio, who possess 196 caps between them, were omitted from a squad session, along with the 48-times capped No 8 Dean Richards. Rowell insisted at the time that they were "in no way dropped. Their qualities are well known to the selectors and they will, of course, be considered when the season is under way."