Officials plan their defence of the Union

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Rugby administrators from around the world - including the home unions - in Sydney for today's Test between Australia and New Zealand are planning a co-ordinated international defence against the threat posed by Kerry Packer's professional World Rugby Championship.

Although Ross Turnbull, the former Wallaby prop fronting the operation to which Packer has lent his name and money, has been waiting for the Bledisloe Cup match to be out of the way before going public, details of the confidential prospectus for WRC have been disclosed.

This confirms that around 900 players are being targeted worldwide with signing-on fees ranging between pounds 33,000 and pounds 183,000. Around pounds 150,000 would be the annual inducement for the very best Test players to sign themselves out of traditional rugby but with a sliding scale below these top 45 "drawcards" through major internationals, internationals and provincials down to a more humble pounds 33,000-a-year for the journeymen (known as "others").

Who gets which rating is but one of the awkward questions to be answered. Moreover, WRC has the nerve - regarded as sheer effrontery by existing administrators - to expect the present rugby unions to act as feeders into the new organisation. Of this there is no chance, and WRC also has still to explain where it will find the pounds 150m required to start the championship and continue it for its first year.

The Packer/Turnbull bid has, however, already done more for players' earning-power than the formal abandonment of amateurism by the International Board next month ever could. Thus although the Rugby Football Union is now in a position to guarantee its squad members an annual pounds 30,000 each, its discussions with player representatives on Thursday reached no conclusion.

Instead, England's players - who, like internationals around the world, are now blessed by being in a no-lose situation - can afford (literally) to weigh the advantages of carrying on for decent but hardly spectacular rewards in a settled and proven international structure against the undreamed- of but as yet undelivered riches of WRC.

Yesterday Alwynne Evans, who as National Clubs' Association executive secretary speaks for England's top 40 clubs, and other club officials met the RFU president and secretary, Bill Bishop and Tony Hallett, in Birmingham and afterwards warned English players to beware acting against their own best interests.

Acquiring the services of English players is critical to the credibility of the Packer operation. If they sign, it is safe to assume so will their counterparts in the rest of rugby-playing Europe. But as ever the campaign is being driven from the southern hemisphere, and whether the English - and by extension the other Europeans - join the new organisation will probably depend on what happens in New Zealand and Australia.

One report in Sydney yesterday suggested all but three of the All Blacks had signed agreements, though this was swiftly denied by the players themselves.

The Australian, New Zealand and South African Rugby Unions have a massive investment - pounds 370m over 10 years from Rupert Murdoch, Packer's great rival, for television rights - to protect and will not simply sit back and let WRC cherry-pick its assets. Neither, one presumes, will Murdoch.

The prospectus reveals it is Turnbull's intention to establish not only a global international competition but also a provincial competition in three geographical conferences with qualification into a world final series. The 352 matches would be played between March and October, with 35 the maximum for any one player.

However plausible this may sound, WRC still has its credibility to establish. First and most obvious is the vast amount of money required to pay players and officials and to pay for the use of non-rugby grounds. The vast majority of the major rugby stadiums in the world are owned by the present rugby authorities rather than, say, municipalities.

Then there is the creation of new rugby identities in a sport where old loyalties have always died hard. This may not be a problem for the players but the idea that the public will fall in love with Brisbane, London, Paris and even East Wales is so far-fetched that it would require a public-relations blitz, and so yet more expense, for it to happen.

There is, too, a cautionary tale from the not-too-distant past. Packer already has a track-record from his 1977 cricket circus but when a breakaway was tried in rugby it failed so badly that not a single game was played. In 1983 David Lord, another Australian with grandiose ideas, announced that he was taking over 200 of rugby union's best players from all the leading countries to play professionally for an organisation called, familiarly, World Championship Rugby.

The circus was to hit towns around the world in January 1984, with vast salaries supposedly on offer to his players allegedly supported by massive sponsorships. Lo and behold, the opening of WCR was duly postponed from January everywhere to March in Australia, though Lord then declared that the 1984 Five Nations' Championship would be the last of its kind. It never happened.

HOW THE PACKER CIRCUS WILL WORK

THREE PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCES

North: teams in Europe and north Africa.

South: Australia, New Zealand South Africa etc.

Central: Argentina, United States, Canada, Japan, Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa.

THREE MAJOR COMPETITIONS

The conference championships: games between teams like East Wales, London, Paris, Brisbane, Johannesburg.

World conference championship final: series for top two teams in each.

International series: games between countries.

A total of 532 games played between March and October.

PLAYER RECRUITMENT

Players will be recruited in five tiers.

Drawcard: 45 players; signing-on pounds 183,000; salary pounds 150,000.

Major International: 45 players; signing-on pounds 150,000; salary pounds 133,000.

International: 90 players; signing-on pounds 133,000; salary pounds 100,000.

Provincial: 450 players; signing-on pounds 67,000; salary pounds 50,000.

Other: 275 players; signing-on pounds 33,000; salary pounds 33,000.

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