Hall isolated as clubs prepare to make peace

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Sir John Hall last night walked out of the leading clubs' negotiating team. The Newcastle owner, was reported to have resigned from English Second Division Rugby Ltd.

Sir John, a vehement critic of the Rugby Football Union during the year- long wrangling for autonomy between English Professional Clubs and Twickenham, is believed to be disillusioned with the leading clubs' willingness to accede to the RFU's terms for the running of the game.

With Newcastle left in isolation, as the remaining clubs in the top two divisions have indicated that they want to stay under the aegis of the RFU, Sir John's apparent decision to step down could be a move to reduce his personal commitment to rugby.

The majority of the clubs are now saying that they feel it makes more sense to work for change from within the RFU. But Sir John has been adamant throughout the dispute that clubs should retain control over their finances. Last month, Sir John was reported to have contacted the European Court of Justice to help establish Newcastle's legal rights to negotiate their own television deal independently of the RFU or any other governing body. Those rights, maintained Sir John, were non-negotiable.

Sir John was one of two representatives of ESDR on the Epruc board. The other, Bedford's Steve O'Neill, is also believed to have resigned.

Epruc met early yesterday to discuss the agreement the top 24 clubs are being asked to sign by the RFU. Newcastle are not expected to be a party to such an agreement. Epruc also announced their representatives on the new governing body, Newco, where the running of the club game will be shared with the RFU. The clubs have six representatives, Twickenham two.

Epruc yesterday elected the following to sit on the board of Newco: from the First Division, Donald Kerr (Harlequins), Peter Wheeler (Leicester), Ian McGeechan (Northampton), Charles Levison (Wasps); and from the Second Division, Symon Elliott (Richmond) and Robin Foster (Wakefield).

Epruc also approved their intended agreement with the RFU which should produce a signed deal late next week.

Wasps, who had been backing Sir John's stand until recently, yesterday forged a hitherto unthinkable liaison with Wigan Rugby League club. The clubs plan a playing link which would involve freedom of movement for players between them.

"They are all professionals and will have the capacity to play throughout the year and maximise their earnings for what is a comparatively short career at the top level," the Wasps chief executive, Geoff Huckstep, said. "There are obvious difficulties because the RL season runs from February until well into the autumn."

Gary Connolly is out of Harlequins' Courage League match at Bath tomorrow. Connolly is still recovering from a knee operation. His place in the centre goes to Peter Mensah.

The lock Andy Reed has been called into Scotland's squad for the match against Italy at Murrayfield on 14 December. Reed, who joined Wasps from Bath this season, has been out with a back injury since the start of 1995. The Northampton prop Mattie Stewart has also been selected. Derrick Patterson replaces injured scrum-half Gary Armstrong.