Lawmakers to take up the attack

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Rugby union's international lawmakers will decisively shift the balance from defence towards attack if they adopt a proposal at this month's Inter- national Board annual meeting in London to keep all 16 forwards bound into a scrummage until it ends.

This is potentially as important a law-change as there has been in two decades - including the controversial amendment of the ruck-and-maul law in 1992 - and comes from New Zealand with the express intention of eradicating midfield defensive congestion by keeping flankers elsewhere.

If that alters the nature of wing-forward play, that is the only change of more than cosmetic importance being considered by the IB, which is anxious to resist the pressure under the new professional dispensation for "entertainment" at the expense of the game's most intrinsic features.

Keith Rowlands, the IB secretary, briefed the rugby press for the last time before his retirement at board headquarters in Bristol yesterday, and as he picked out this one prospective amendment it can be assumed it has wide support. "It would be an enormous and fundamental change to the playing of the game," he said.

As the IB is considering siting itself "offshore" - probably in Dublin, Monte Carlo or Switzerland - for tax reasons, its days in Bristol appear numbered. Another change means that, as of the forthcoming annual meeting, the chairman of the board will be appointed by election and not by Buggins' turn as previously.

Rowlands had ironically comforting words for the Rugby Football Union in its distress at the grassroots uprising which it fears may, if the membership votes to reimpose amateurism, have to mean its withdrawal from the IB. "The game is not a professional game," he said. "In our game there may be only 12 or 14 unions who pay people or allow people to be paid.

"The International Board has put in place regulations that say the game is open. Open is open-ended and therefore if the RFU was to declare itself an amateur rugby union it would not affect its membership of the International Board, because it would be exactly the same as the Croatian and Japanese and somewhere in the region of 57 rugby unions around the world."

Rowlands was more concerned at the threat to the official game from entrepreneurs such as the Australian Ross Turnbull, who has attempted to buy up leading European players to be the clowns in a rebel circus. "I would have serious concerns that the game worldwide is sufficiently organised or funded to resist serious overtures," he said. "I say that because the game worldwide is seriously underfunded. We are talking about 71 unions, 57 of whom have a major cash problem."

As for the big unions, with some 500 players under contract they are safe for now, but the retiring secretary foresaw further bids from the likes of Turnbull once those contracts run out. "By then we will be into the next World Cup, playing in which will enhance those players' value."

Rowlands revealed what the Five Nations' Committee failed to when he stated that referees handling the 10 fixtures in the championship, which begins in Paris and Dublin on Saturday, will receive pounds 400 each per match, with touch-judges getting pounds 200 each and the reserve touch-judge pounds 100 to establish both pecking-order and incentive. Brian Campsall from Halifax, who will referee Ireland v Scotland, and David McHugh from Co Cork (France v England) are the first beneficiaries.

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