Pugh applies pressure to RFU

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The Independent Online
England will in effect be expelled from the Five Nations' Champ-ionship a month from now, when bids for the next television contract are in, if the Rugby Football Union fails to reverse its pol- icy of negotiating its own auto- nomous broadcasting contract.

This announcement was issued yesterday by Vernon Pugh, the Welsh Rugby Union chairman. He said the rest of the participating countries were no longer willing to wait until the present BBC contract expires, at the end of next season, before severing relations with the RFU, whose officials say they know nothing about it.

Pugh thereby sharply increa- sed the pressure on Twickenham, whose argument that what is good for England is good for everyone else is regarded by their partners as insulting. The ramifications of the exclusion would be such that an alternative, non-RFU England team could be entered into the Five Nations by players keen to defend the title.

The Five Nations' TV committee will tomorrow send tender documents to broadcasters, who will have 28 days to reply. Already, BSkyB has made offers to each of the home unions that are reckoned to amount to at least pounds 200m over five years compared with the present pounds 34m over three, of which the RFU has 37 per cent and the Welsh, Scots and Irish 21 per cent each.

"When we have received the bids from the TV companies and decide which one to go with, we will seek an agreement on equality," Pugh said. "If England decide not to participate in the agreement, we will run a championship without them next season. The BBC contract for 1997 will not be broken; we agree to sell matches that are available."

In practice, this would entail a four-nation tournament of 12 fixtures, played home and away, as opposed to 10 in the Five Nations. The French, who negotiate their own TV contract, have thrown in their lot with the Celts - leaving England, if excluded, to seek alternative fixtures against lesser Europeans or southern-hemisphere countries, minor as well as major.