Players' union up and running

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There were some big names on board as the South Wales train pulled on to Platform 1 at Paddington yesterday for the official launch of the Rugby Union Players' Association (Rupa).

They were the Wales wing Ieuan Evans, the former England flanker Peter Winterbottom, who is Rupa's vice-chairman, Robert Norster, the chairman, and the England lock Martin Bayfield, a regional representative.

Bayfield welcomes Rupa. "It's not just for this season," he explained. "It's for the future. When you get promising players put on contract straight from school they are going to need guidance. This is an organisation that is going to grow and grow."

There are an estimated 500,000 people playing rugby in England, Wales and Scotland. The fee to join is pounds 1 per week, so the financial potential is immense. Added to which Norster hopes to persuade the various playing unions to contribute.

"We are very much in the hands of the players," said Norster, the former Wales and British Lions lock. "We are looking to go forward with the unions. Rupa will be a medium. We will not just be advising about contracts. I would hope, for example, that we could draw up some sort of list of approved players' agents, because there are plenty of sharks in the water."

Rupa is the brainchild of the former Rosslyn Park captain and scrum-half Richard Moon, secretary of the association. "It should spread from the United Kingdom, through Europe and possibly into the southern hemisphere," Moon said. "Ireland is next. We have also had talks with representatives from France and South Africa. But all along we have consulted with the the various unions to get their support as we do not want to be seen as a threatening organisation."

Rupa's aims include player representation at disciplinary hearings, assistance in contractual negotiations and advice on movement between clubs. They will provide legal advice over contracts, claims for damages and unfair dismissal; insurance cover against accident and disability while playing; holiday discounts; access to a range of financial services covering sickness, pensions, mortgages, motor and home insurance; and retraining in preparation for a player's career coming to an end.