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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London