Players to be left short as sponsors unveiled

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

DAVID LLEWELLYN

The moment the game goes open the Rugby Football Union clam up and become coy about the size of their sponsorship deals. Everyone was left in the dark when the mobile phone company Cellnet were announced as England's elite sponsors at Twickenham yesterday.

One thing is certain, they are not talking telephone numbers; the four- year deal, with an option for a fifth, looks to be worth around pounds 3.5m, but it is unlikely to make a fortune for the players. It is now estimated that the most they can make in the season looks to be around pounds 20,000, with a basic pounds 15,000 for promotional work and the rest coming in the form of match fees. That is a lot less than the projected pounds 40,000 being bandied around in the summer.

But there is scope for more cash to come in because Cellnet is just the first of around half a dozen companies who are looking to line English pockets.

Cellnet has adopted a bizarre stance over the deal. Originally bids were invited for sponsors to have their logo added to the England shirt. According to the RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, Cellnet, who also sponsor Middlesbrough Football Club, have eschewed the exposure the shirt deal offered and instead have opted to put their name to England's training kit and a range of leisurewear for the players.

Will Carling, the English captain, welcomed the deal but made it clear he had not negotiated with the RFU for a larger piece of the action because of his position. "I've never thought of negotiating anything separately," Carling said.

The England fly-half Mike Catt is out of the Bath team who travel to Sale tomorrow. His absence will be a source of concern to the England manager Jack Rowell, who said as much when Catt was unable to take part in Tuesday's training session because of an ankle injury.

n The National Clubs' Association executive committee was unable to decide yesterday whether there should be any relegation at the end of the season when the Second Division increases from 10 to 14 clubs and the Third Division has 16 sides instead of 10. The matter will now go to an emergency general meeting of the NCA on 10 December and its recommendation will be considered by the RFU's competitions sub committee on 14 December.

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