Positive forecast as Epruc and RFU meet

Rugby Union
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The money starts talking today when the Newcastle owner, Sir John Hall, accompanies Donald Kerr, the chairman of English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, to a meeting which could end the deadlock between clubs and country that is threatening to tear the game apart.

Sir John and Kerr will be confronted by Tony Hallett, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, and two others, believed to be the president, John Richardson, and Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the executive committee.

The meeting is likely to be the first in a series this week as both sides try to resolve the issue of who gets control of what, and for how much. What is almost certain is that the clubs, who have the support of the England players, will be asking for Twickenham to hand over much more than the pounds 22.5m they have been promised by the RFU.

The indications now are that rugby's bosses are prepared to make a big concession in order to persuade Epruc to remain in the union and preserve the England national side - the players have already boycotted one squad session and there is an implication that their clubs will not release them for international matches.

With pounds 87.5m coming their way from BSkyB over five years from 1997-98, the RFU have a certain amount of financial leeway, and the clubs will probably be looking for an increase from the pounds 300,000 per season that they can expect under the current agreement.

A vision of what lies ahead for the club game in Europe was revealed yesterday after Epruc met with the leading Scottish clubs, who may now join with their English counterparts in a new European Rugby Federation.

"This [the ERF] would be responsible for running European club and domestic leagues," said John Mackay, chairman of Scottish First Division Rugby Limited.

"It is not a breakaway from the Scottish Rugby Union. We would want to work with them and expect them to run the international game. From what we can gather after listening to the presentation from Epruc we could be talking about a hell of lot more from their negotiated deals," he added.

Yesterday Scottish Rugby Union president Fred McLeod reiterated his earlier statement: "I am concerned that Epruc are poking their noses into our affairs. The Unions intend to control the game and not one or two private investors. They are purely interested in money."

But Epruc certainly seem to hold a fistful of trump cards. Apart from the England squad members' solidarity, they are asking every England player in the top two divisions to back them. The former England captain Will Carling has announced that he will not be party to the boycott, however, and it is likely the Coventry prop Robin Hardwick, the only player to turn up at the first training session which the other 42 players boycotted, will join him.