Kerry Packer's attempt to lead a breakaway rugby circus yesterday appeared to have finished in failure. The threat to the rugby establishment by the Packer-backed World Rugby Corporation was effectively lifted at a news conference in Sydney when the leading Australian players announced that they had come to an agreement with the Australian RFU and would therefore not be playing in the WRC's competition.
The announcement was followed by a statement from the WRC declaring that it endorsed the decisions of the Australian players and would release them from any agreements that they had signed pledging their future to the WRC.
The WRC conceded further ground in its bid for control of the game later in the day in Johannesburg when Ross Turnbull, the former Australian prop who has been fronting the operation, announced that the 150 provincial players in South Africa who had also signed agreements with WRC would be released from their contracts.
Yesterday's events show a complete turn-round from the WRC. Only 13 days ago, a majority of the Springbok squad had announced that they would not be playing in the WRC competition. But the day after their declaration, Turnbull won a court order temporarily preventing them from signing contracts with the South African RFU (Sarfu). Now that the WRC is releasing players from their signed agreements, it clearly suggests that the plans for a global competition have been abandoned.
The Australian Rugby Football Union has agreed to share some power with players as part of the compromise deal. The players will receive two seats on the organisation's board, and also on the boards of the New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory unions.
Tony Hallett, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, welcomed the WRC's apparent failure to buy up 900 of the world's top players. Hallett and other Twickenham officials will continue negotiations with the England squad for improved earnings for promotional activities and promised that the players' income would not be cut after the loss of their big lever - the threat to go to the WRC.
Hallett said: "I have been speaking to some of the players today and our discussions with them will continue. Our offer is on the table and will not change significantly because of the probable end of the Australian threat."
Leading England players are looking forward to around pounds 60,000 from promotional work next season - four times their earnings last season which included the World Cup finals.
But they will be nowhere near the pounds 100,000 that Sarfu has promised the Springbok World Cup winners to stay with the traditional game. And there may be a starting point much lower than pounds 60,000.
Hallett added: "For some time our intelligence has been that the Australian project was on the brink of collapse. The competition was always founded strongly on public relations and big, but fragile promises.
"In the northern hemisphere, we took these proposals seriously because the players were adopting a serious attitude towards the offers.
"Our job was quietly to persuade them otherwise. We have tried to show that their future paths lay with the unions who run the game, while waiting to see what the International Board proposes for players' future earnings at the Paris meeting later this month.
"The news from the southern hemisphere is excellent for Australia and others, and certainly good news for the northern hemisphere."
Colin Herridge, who is one of the RFU's representatives on the joint Twickenham-players negotiating panel, said: "It's a good reward, but the squad will not hit the jackpot in the first year. It's a base that in the next couple of years should bring players substantial sums."Reuse content