Legend in his lunch break

Paul Trow talks to the man who found the formula for unity
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The Independent Online
Much has been made of the intermediary skills of Bill Bishop, the Rugby Football Union's president, in helping to heal the rift with the leading clubs. And there is little doubt that before the genial Cornishman became involved, the negotiations between Epruc and the RFU team, headed by the controversial Cliff Brittle, were heading nowhere, fast. Right up to Friday afternoon, the impasse was still firmly in place with both sides apparently equally determined to give no further ground.

The decisive intervention, it seems, came from an individual who had been in the eye of the storm since it first blew up when the game was declared open by the International Rugby Board in Paris last August.

Tony Hallett, who was installed as secretary of the RFU in succession to Dudley Wood after last summer's World Cup, had suffered a grim baptism of fire in his new job. His experience as a senior Royal Navy officer had scarcely prepared him for the machinations and internecine politics which, within a few brief months of the IRB's historic announcement, had English rugby paralysed in its grip.

But cometh the hour . . . and in Hallett's case the crucial hour when he came of age as one of the shapers of rugby's future was during the lunch break. In the morning, the two adversaries were given the opportunity to address each other. Polite applause followed the presentation by Epruc's four representatives, but after the RFU negotiating team's report it was clear, in Hallett's words, "that there were still a lot of differences". So while nearly 60 of rugby's finest were taking the edge off their hunger, Hallett went off on his own "to write a resolution which I hoped would bring the parties together".

In all, he produced three pages when the proceedings resumed at around 3.30pm. "I showed it first to the RFU committee and then I took it to the Epruc representatives who were in a separate room," Hallett said.

"All of a sudden, my resolution had almost universal acceptance by all sides. It was subjected to some amendment, but not much, and within two hours we had reached agreement. There was a handshake at around 6.15pm and then we set about trying to prepare a press statement.

"That led to more to-ing and fro-ing before both parties agreed the wording. They never met officially again after the morning session, and by the time we held the press conference at around 7.45pm to announce the news most of those involved in the talks had gone." As the delegates filed away after five months of huffing and puffing, Hallett allowed himself a quiet smile of satisfaction at a job well done. Almost statesmanslike, in fact.