RFU to pay England players after World Cup

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The Independent Online
England's rugby union players, currently sunning themselves in Durban ready for their opening World Cup match against Argentina on Saturday, will sign up to a major sponsorship deal after the World Cup which will leave them substantially better off, but some way short of outright professionalism.

A deal to include the most precious sponsorship of all - the England jersey - had been due to be concluded before the squad left for this tournament. But the announcement was delayed by this month's stand-off between Will Carling and the Rugby Football Union when Carling was deprived of the captaincy for calling the committee "57 old farts", only to be reinstated two days later.

Carling's complaint against the flatulent 57 is ironic given that the same men are about to agree a contract which will be worth around pounds 6m over four years. As things stand, pounds 2m of this would go to the players (who want a 50-50 split) for off-the-field promotional work and pounds 4m to the union.

If this is then divided between a notional squad of 30, assuming members of the management are not also to be included, that would amount to an average of pounds 16,666 each per year, way short of the pounds 30,000 figure speculated on BBC Radio yesterday - handsome pocket-money rather than the rate for a full-time rugby-playing job.

It is also some way short of the pounds 40,000 some Australians are supposedly making this year, allowing Colin Herridge, the RFU committee man acting as the England media-liaison man in Durban, to dismiss radio talk that the deal could turn supposedly amateur players into full-time professionals.

Herridge, a former secretary of Harlequins who is closely aligned with the team, said: "The idea is to reward players for the time they devote to rugby. The sums we have in mind are to be regarded as a supplement to a player's existing earnings and to compensate him for the lack of career-development he might suffer through his rugby commitments."

The RFU has been in negotiation with a half-dozen companies including Courage and Cellnet, both of which already have a highly visible sponsorship arrangements directly with the team.

Whatever the final details, which are now to be left until after the World Cup, the sponsorship will at the very least be an irrevocable move away from amateurism, an increasingly imprecise concept which is in any event coming up for review at the special meeting of the International Rugby Board in Paris in August.

Further momentum in the same direction will shortly be provided by the big southern hemisphere unions. Having got together in Cape Town last Friday, they are now open to offers from Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer and any other TV mogul who fancies his chances of sponsoring from next year an annual three nations' competition, played on a home-and-away basis by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and a 12-team provincial tournament expanded from the Super 10.