Newcastle may take legal action over the 120-day transfer rule

David Llewellyn reports on a mixed reception for the RFU's proposals
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The Independent Online
The RFU's insistence, in their proposals, on retaining until the end of the season the 120-day qualifying period for transferred players brought a predictably sharp response from Newcastle.

A spokesman for the club, Mike Elrick, said: "I am not going to rule out the idea that we might take legal action and it's something that we'll be looking at over the next few days when we discuss the ins and outs of what the RFU has said.

"We have players of the calibre of Rob Andrew, Nick Popplewell and Dean Ryan here and the people in charge of the game have to think seriously if it is wise to leave players like this sitting on the sidelines and unable to take part."

Nor was he impressed by the RFU's attempt to show it had got to grips with the modern era. "It goes to show that there are a lot of archaic rules governing the game of rugby, but ultimately, and it is inevitable, these will be swept aside and the authorities will have to change," Elrick said. The rule is set to disappear after this season.

The proposal to move the Five Nations' Championship to May drew more widespread comment, much of it unfavourable. The Welsh Rugby Union secretary, Edward Jones, said: "I do not think it is feasible. There are a number of major issues to be addressed, not least the demands on the players and potential pressures for fans."

Ireland's secretary, Philip Browne, supported that view, saying: "Here in Ireland such a move would have some disadvantages. For instance, the National Hurling League is at its height in May, with every Sunday of the month taken up."

Ben Clarke, the England No 8, thought playing the tournament on successive weekends was not a good idea, but the new time was. "It is rugby's premier event in the northern hemisphere at the moment and I just feel it would be a more attractive match to play and to watch when the weather is finer."

That view was echoed by Jack Rowell, the England manager, who explained: "I've been a fan of moving the Five Nations out of midwinter for a long time. We all thirst for dynamic and flexible rugby these days as played on the superior surfaces in the southern hemisphere. To do that we have to move out of January and February."

But Rowell said his initial reaction was slightly different. "My first thoughts were: `The players have already got enough on their shoulders.' The thought of some of them playing 10 months on the trot - if not quicker - is mind-boggling at the moment, but I think once the players get used to it they will settle down and we will see a better game."

The proposals will have to be negotiated by the other four unions, and there could even be opposition from within the RFU executive. Denis Easby, the immediate past president, expressed two concerns. "One, the players are going to have a hell of a long season if the Five Nations' Championship is moved into May. Secondly, I am not sure about reducing the size of the executive committee, which, since Tony Hallett will be the chairman, would give an 8-7 majority to the professionals on it. Their views are valuable but I do not think they should have a majority."

The RFU can expect little opposition from the First Division clubs, who passed a vote of no confidence in the commission not long ago after being refused a second representative in addition to Bath's chairman, Richard Mawditt. Those clubs this week issued their own blueprint for the future. There are differences, but Mawditt said: "I've every hope that the First Division clubs' report and this commission report will dovetail very nicely."