Hallett takes the disunion in his stride

Owen Slot listens to the trials of a man about to present rugby's new blueprint
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The Independent Online
ON TUESDAY morning in a hotel in Slough, Tony Hallett, the secretary of the RFU, will be putting the finishing touches to a document which will shape the future of rugby union in England. He and the rest of a special seven-man commission have been constructing it for eight weeks, much of which has been spent dodging bullets.

In week two, the country's senior clubs declared a vote of no confidence in the commission, in week seven Sir John Hall threatened to take the RFU to court if the commission failed to abolish the 120-day rule, and week eight kicked off with Dick Best, director of rugby at Harlequins, declaring that the commission's men "are life's second XI who don't understand the game and are trying to make decisions that no one will have any respect for".

Last Thursday, Hallett sat back in his chair, grinned, and conceded the point: "Yes, it's been quite a test." He was at the East India Club; an organisation known as the EIC but referred to in public by Hallett as the "OFC", the Old Farts' Club. He does not really meet the membership rules but if his blueprint fails to satisfy those expected to follow it, then he will have a lifetime subscription.

Some parts of the blueprint are as good as public knowledge. The 120 days which a player changing clubs has to sit out is to remain in place - Sir John may be consulting his solicitors even now. On Thursday, Hallett revealed another probable piece of legislation that is certain to raise objections in some quarters. A form of divisional rugby - at present watched by one man and his dog and rarely enjoyed by either - is also part of the future. "We need a higher level of representative rugby, between club and country," he explained. "Divisional rugby as we know it does not fit that bill - something must replace it, albeit something similar in some way. The players want it, so does Jack Rowell and so does the national playing committee of the RFU."

Such consultation has been the key to Hallett's last two months. Last week alone he met Barry Hearn, representatives of the TCCB and of the FA. "There's not many sports or professional attitudes to them that we haven't got a feel for," Hallett said. The intended result is a combination of the best of the lot: football, for instance, will find that its Professional Footballers Association acts a model for a rugby counterpart; even a journalist who came to interview Hallett ("I interviewed him in the end") will find his ideas for an independent tribunal on disciplinary disputes incorporated into the new structure.

It has, of course, not all been that simple. Hallett started by consulting a panel of England players - Carling, Catt, Johnson and Rodber - and "even they, across the table, were having trouble agreeing a format or a pattern". The trouble has really occurred, though, when he has sat between two opposing parties.

Take the vote of no confidence by the League One clubs, led by Peter Wheeler, the Leicester chairman. It was taken because they felt they were insufficiently represented on the commission. "But so did everyone else," Hallett explained. He did, however, try to add another man to the commission - "I thought, if that gives peace at the top end of the game, then hallelujah." His problem, however, was that the RFU committee which had appointed the commission refused to allow him.

"I was between a rock and a hard place. I told Peter and he said: 'I'm very sorry, we'll have to go our own way.' I thought then that the whole thing would become blood-stained, but it didn't get that bad because we've continued, through the Wheeler-Hallett axis, to keep communication going. We've retrieved the situation."

The Hall-Hallett axis has been less successful. "I'm getting Sir John ringing up and saying 'How's the 120 days going?' " Hallett said, pointing out another impossible position that he is in. After their initial breakaway, the League One clubs came running back to the RFU when they found Rob Andrew trying to recruit their players to Newcastle. The majority of these clubs now want the 120-day rule kept for the protection it gives; some even want it extended. "If we tampered with that rule half-way though the season," Hallett said, "then I reckon that too opens the door to the courts." In other words, whatever happens to the 120 days, the RFU could find itself in court.

It has been 100-odd days since Hallett arrived in office. In that time he has lived though the threat of the Packer circus, the IRB's vote for the open game and now this. His biggest test, he says, is to incorporate the blueprint. Of course, by then he will have survived what he calls "the hue and cry" that will surely greet it.

One of the wailers will surely be Dudley Wood, Hallett's predecessor. "Dudley has been a bit naughty," Hallett said, explaining that he has lately made it a habit to voice his disappointment with the game. Which reminds one that only 100 days ago, a staunch defender of amateurism was in the job. It also makes one wonder how scarred the battlefield would be if he were still there.

Whole new ball game: Five figures address the key issues of professionalism

The 120-day registration regulation

Contracts

Transfers

Restructuring the season

Bath and England player

It's going to be difficult to enforce the 120-day rule legally, but there needs to be a system that prevents players from flitting from club to club. Once contracts are up and running, though, you won't need such a waiting period.

It is foolish to think that you can have two contracts, one for club and one for country. You can't have two employers. We should be on one contract, a club contract, with a proviso for international demands.

In American football, they have a system whereby they rotate the best up-and-coming players with a draft system. Maybe we could have a system like that here. However, you can't avoid the fact that those who sort themselves out quickest financially will do best.

The season needs to be restructured based on the physical demands on the players. Only then will you get the quality matches the game needs. From a club point of view, we must have a European competition next year.

Sir John Hall

Other clubs feel this rule is the only thing that can stop us getting their players. But scrap it at once. If you're going professional, why do you need it? We've asked for legal opinion on it and we're waiting for an assessment.

Newcastle players' contracts will be with Newcastle. They will be released for England, but they don't need a second contract. If a player is being paid, he must put first his long-term interest in the game and that is with his club. He may only have one season with England.

You're going to have to wait for the ruling on Bosman which comes up in January. But you can take it as writ now that you cannot stop any club employing 15 Europeans. You are now subject not just to English law but to European Union law.

The clubs need money. They have to decide how many games they can play in a season and people think that 35 is about right. It's a balance between raising income and fitting in the superleagues and the England games.

Wasps coach

It's got to go, it's illegal. Newcastle are a one-off at the moment and at Wasps we have to use our strength - our high profile. Because of it, without the 120 days, we could be getting new players in.

The RFU should put all First Division players on contract and say they receive extra if picked for England. They keep control that way, but it's probably too late. For a club, it's no good contracting a player who can't fulfil his commitments due to England commitments.

If the RFU had all the contracts, then everyone would be under the same roof and it wouldn't be the market place that counted. Now we're heading for survival of the richest.

Start in August and get the league played before the end of November. Then have a two-month break to regroup and avoid the bad weather. Then go into European competitions and end the season with the Five Nations.

Rugby Special presenter

It's unmanageable now and I don't think they can sustain it, almost for moral reasons. A lot of very good players still play purely for fun and they are being denied this chance.

I don't think contracts should be a major problem; football now seems to have solved the club v country rows. I think clubs should hold the contracts on the understanding that players are released for international duties.

Keep transfers to a manageable level by limiting them to off-season. On 1 August, a club should have a squad that should not change. Maybe, as in Italian football, there should be a window in the season when transfers are permitted.

Rugby is wasting an opportunity with the Five Nations. I think we've got to have internationals on 10 consecutive Saturdays. Also, as someone who is, say, trying to sell the game, I look at the Divisional Championship with despair.

England selector

I don't think it can remain. Nobody is going to buy a new player if that man can't play for 120 days. For the moment, though, I think some clubs would like it to stay - just as a lifeline.

England contracts are definitely going to come out before the South Africa game. My worry is that they will clash with club contracts. I hope club contracts include a clause which allows players to play for England.

Money will talk and I don't know how you stop that unless that money comes from a central source such as the RFU. Maybe there should be some restriction on movement: it does make it easier if you know you've got your players for a certain length of time.

From my England perspective, I want to see players less tired when playing for England. So there's a case for the league being earlier in the season, leading into European competitions and the internationals in April or May.

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