Players face burden of peace

After all the battles and the brinkmanship, rugby union prepares for a future of heavy physical and financial demands; Paul Trow studies implications of a momentous day for a troubled sport

Peace may have broken out at last in English rugby after five months of conflict and strife, but at what cost? While the new, minority breed of full-time professionals can look forward to conducting lucrative pay negotiations with their clubs between their morning and afternoon training sessions, most players face a logistical nightmare.

Following Friday's showdown at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London, which after eight hours of brinkmanship was more of a slowdown, the threat of a breakaway by England's senior 24 clubs was averted and the Rugby Football Union retained control of the game. But as the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs basked in the warm glow of perceived vindication at achieving many of the objectives on the agenda they drew up when the game went open, long before most people had even heard of Cliff Brittle, their players, still the game's most valuable assets, braced themselves for something completely different.

It will become clear when the fixture list is released next month that internationals could play in upwards of 40 big games during the 1996-97 season. League One of the Courage Championship will consist of 12 rather than 10 clubs to accommodate both the relegated Saracens and West Hartlepool, and the promoted Northampton and London Irish.

At a stroke that means there will be 22 Courage games in the top flight compared with this season's quota of 18, and consequently the start of next season has been brought forward to the third weekend in August from its traditional September opening.

"Add on five Pilkington Cup matches if we reach the final, around eight European games, and that is before the international squad players have put on their England shirts. It seems too much," said the soon-to-be-full- time England flanker Lawrence Dallaglio, overlooking the Anglo-Welsh tournament which is also in the pipeline.

There will not be many Saturdays left for best-man duties or golfing breaks, but many of the players with careers and families are wary of the physical and mental demands which await them. Aadel Kardooni, whose status as first-choice scrum-half at Leicester will be under threat next season from the Orrell recruit Austin Healey, believes that a strong squad, providing top-class cover for every position, is the only answer. "There's no way we're going to be able to play every game," he said. "Injuries are going to be inevitable and it will be important also to rest players to keep them fresh."

For the real elite, the calendar will be further squeezed by the seven or eight weekends that the RFU have insisted the clubs must allow for international or representative commitments. And that is not all. There has also been an open-ended agreement by the clubs to honour national squad training get-togethers.

This particular concession will meet scepticism from some club coaches, especially those who have Welsh, Irish or Scottish players. The small print of the resolution drawn up by the RFU secretary Tony Hallett, which ultimately satisfied both Epruc and the RFU committee, does not specify the nationality of those international or representative players for whom this concession will be granted.

On the one hand, Clive Woodward, the London Irish coach, was tearing his hair out on the very Saturday the Exiles earned promotion to League One about the demands made by the Irish Rugby Union. "I want the players to play for Ireland but the club is owed a duty as well," he said. In contrast, concern has been voiced in Wales and Scotland that their access to star players who have moved to England will be restricted. The Harlequins- bound lock Gareth Llewellyn is adamant he will be available for Welsh squad sessions. And the agent Mike Burton, set for a summer of dealing with clubs on behalf of his clients, said: "I shall insist there are no restrictions on a player's international or representative opportunities in any contract I negotiate."

Such matters, though, were a long way from the thoughts of the 50 or so RFU committeemen and the four Epruc representatives at the Hilton. Despite the inevitable exchange of diplomatic pleasantries about there being no winners or losers, Donald Kerr, the Epruc chairman, had clearly not lost sight of his priorities: "Now our negotiations are over, we will be lending our support to the leading Welsh clubs in their negotiations. We have given that undertaking."

His fellow Epruc negotiators, Mike Smith and Peter Wheeler, respectively the chief executives of Saracens and Leicester, were looking even further ahead after Friday's talkathon. While Wheeler welcomed the agreement as an opportunity at last to negotiate terms with players "who have been hanging around not knowing what was going to happen", Smith took an even longer view. "Getting the TV and sponsorship money is absolutely vital for the clubs because as this game grows, we are going to have to take on similar responsibilities to those of Football League clubs - having grounds which have floodlights and meet standard safety and comfort criteria - and yet stay in the black."

In the short term, though, Smith was delighted at Saracens' narrow escape from the clutches of League Two. "It means that two of the world's great players, Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella, can parade their talents on the first division stage," he said.

So while Brittle returns to the relative obscurity of chairing the RFU's executive committee (he will be unopposed for re-election at July's AGM) and Bill Bishop looks forward to putting his feet up after a somewhat turbulent year of presidency, the players can look forward to lots of money, and lots of hard work.

How the future shapes up

Clubs remain under jurisdiction of the RFU, the governing body of the game in England, and play only in RFU-approved competitions.

In season 1996-97 the 24 senior clubs will take part in: the English Club Championship in Leagues One and Two of 12 clubs each, playing each other at home and away; the Pilkington Cup; a two-tier European competition organised by European Rugby Cup; and any Anglo-Welsh competitions.

Players will be released by clubs to train for or take part in international or representative rugby on seven or eight weekends in season.

Clubs will be represented at negotiations for TV coverage or sponsorship and will be signatories to contracts relating to competitions in which they play. An agreed proportion of money from media coverage or sponsorship will go to senior clubs.

Twickenham Services, an RFU company, will provide administration for the registration of players and the approval of contracts.

The structure of the leagues for the 1997-98 season and subsequent seasons will be decided by meetings of representatives from the senior clubs and the RFU, based on the principles above.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own