RFU in mood to negotiate with clubs

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The Independent Online
Twickenham last night made its first positive move to try to sort out the long-running dispute with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs. A statement from the Rugby Football Union announced that they had contacted Epruc with a view to begin negotiations to put England's rugby house in order.

The move comes almost exactly a week before the 11 October deadline, the day when Epruc and its member clubs have threatened to break away from the Union. Sources within the RFU were last night sounding notes of cautious optimism about this latest development and Donald Kerr, the chairman of Epruc, said: "I am grateful to have contact made with us. It is nearly three weeks since we last had formal contact with the RFU committee members. We have always been amenable to talks. We approach them in an open, positive, constructive frame of mind."

The RFU is to propose two specific items for consideration: a financial agreement for the next two years and beyond; and a clear partnership for the organisation of the clubs' league and cup competitions, domestically and in Europe, in terms of financial fixtures and future competitions. Twickenham also announced it is to reorganise the RFU's way of working in order to facilitate the professional game.

This last move is as a result of a working party set up specifically to examine the infrastructure of the RFU and it is expected to streamline the cumbersome committee system, which is locked into the old amateur ways and can clog up too easily and slow down development of what is now a rapidly changing game.

The statement continued: "The RFU is determined to avoid a breakaway and will help to ensure a viable future for professional club rugby, while at the same time not disadvantaging the rest of the game. The RFU wants clubs to commit [themselves] to releasing their players for representative duties to an agreed schedule."

That would mean the clubs allowing players to take part in Divisional matches, something which may prove to be a sticking point, but Epruc still sounded reasonably positive with Kerr explaining: "There will be no preconditions. Our position is that we have asked clubs to obtain the necessary permission, under their constitutions, to leave the Union some time after 11 October - either amicably, or instantly if the RFU adopt a hostile stance."

Twickenham certainly seems prepared to go along with Epruc's desire to take more responsibility for the running of club competitions and affairs in general, but matters of discipline could prove another problem area.

One case has already cropped up involving the Bristol lock Phil Adams, who was fined the equivalent of six match fees by his club following a stamping incident at Northampton last month. But it looks as if Twickenham is going to investigate the matter further, the implication being that Bristol were not hard enough. An RFU spokesman said a disciplinary hearing would be fixed within the next couple of weeks.

Ireland's top 14 clubs have taken England's lead and formed a body to represent their interests. The Irish First Division Clubs' Association has met with the approval of the Irish RFU. But all is not well across St George's Channel. Some English clubs have angered officials of Leinster and Ulster by refusing to release their Irish players to represent their provinces in the European Cup which starts next week. Northampton and Sale have three players between them and London Irish are considering following suit with their trio. The Ulster coach, Tony Russ, said: "Epruc have ordered the English clubs not to release their players and I am at the sharp end of it."

The European Cup tournament director, Roger Pickering, confirmed that there has been a bid to televise the competition but he would not identify the company, nor the amount, rumoured to be pounds 140m from BSkyB.

Jack Rowell has added props Will Green (Wasps) and Matt Volland (Northampton) to the 45-man squad for next Wednesday's training session at Bisham Abbey.