RFU standing firm behind the 120-day rule

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The Independent Online
DAVID LLEWELLYN AND PAUL STEPHENS

The controversial 120-day registration rule preventing players from turning out for new clubs immediately, is unlikely to be abandoned, the president of the Rugby Football Union, Bill Bishop, intimated yesterday.

The news will frustrate further the First Division clubs itching to make progress in the professional era, and may hasten a testing of the RFU rules in court.

The RFU's commission on all aspects of professionalism, is due to publish its report next week and the matters it raises will then be discussed, first by the executive committee of the RFU then by a special general meeting nearer Christmas. Bishop said yesterday: "I don't think we have dragged our feet. We introduced the moratorium to protect the game, to protect the clubs. We started the season under a set of rules and we will finish it under the same set of rules.

"I feel we are in charge. But I'm conscious if I fail, this game will go down."

Bishop's stance is at odds with the First Division clubs, to whom Newcastle's new owner, Sir John Hall, outlined his vision of the future on Monday night.

Speaking to the directors of English First Division Clubs Ltd, the organisation created before the start of the season, to look after the interests of the 10 clubs in the top flight plus Northampton, Hall advocated a club- led breakaway following the example of the Premiership football clubs. "If ITV are willing to put up pounds 20m for a European competition which doesn't contain any of the English clubs, how much is a TV deal worth with the English clubs in it?" he said. "At the moment Twickenham control all the TV money, but sooner or later the top clubs will have to be masters of their own destiny. Ideally this could be done with the consent of the RFU. But if they won't give it, then the clubs must consider going it alone."

Hall was invited to the meeting by Peter Wheeler, Leicester's president, who shares much of Hall's vision for the sport. "We didn't only talk about money," Wheeler said. "Our meeting covered all aspects, including contracts for players and Europe, where we all want to be."

Hall had to overcome some initial hostility from clubs whose players have been attracted to Kingston Park. "There was a frank exchange of views," Wheeler said, "but any hostility soon evaporated. He addressed our meeting because his experience in football of working with a professional club in a fully-paid sport, where building up revenue is essential, has to be beneficial to English rugby.

"The International Rugby Football Board declared the game open in August and we have to react to that. We have to be more professional in our approach."

The findings of a report by an EFDC working party will be announced at a special meeting on Monday.

n Two Wasps defectors to Newcastle, Dean Ryan and Steve Bates, are in the London Division squad to play Western Samoa on 29 November.There is a vacancy at stand-off and the coach, Tony Jordan has not ruled out the possibility of Rob Andrew opting to turn out.

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