Rugby: Brittle retaliates by calling SGM

Cliff Brittle, the hard-line Rugby Football Union executive chairman at the centre of the long-running power battle with England's senior clubs, was looking isolated last night as the conflict took a dramatic new twist, writes Chris Hewett.

Brittle's relations with his own colleagues on the governing body's negotiating team were in tatters after John Richardson, the RFU president, issued a statement condemning the Isle of Man businessman's implacable opposition to a peace deal agreed by both sides before Christmas.

Richardson signalled his own determination to complete a formal agreement with the clubs this week, whether Brittle likes it or not. He will put the proposed settlement before the full RFU committee tomorrow and, if he wins approval, will put pen to paper on Friday.

With the two remaining members of the four-man RFU negotiating team - Tony Hallett, the secretary, and Colin Herridge, the treasurer - also in favour of a conciliatory approach, Brittle was left in a minority of one last night.

He reacted by calling for a Special General Meeting of all 2,000 affiliated clubs to debate further the issue of control of the domestic game. He needs the support of 100 clubs to make the SGM happen and, given his power base among the grass roots, there is little doubt that he will obtain the necessary backing. But it smacked of gesture politics; any attempt to throw more fuel on the dying embers of a dispute that has already caused serious damage to the fabric of the game in England could well prove futile.

Last night, it emerged that Brittle attempted to force a postponement of the England team announcement for this weekend's Calcutta Cup match with Scotland, pending a further round of talks with the clubs. Richardson, almost white with anger, said: "I believe that would have been a huge public relations disaster. We would have been pilloried by our committee, the RFU, the public and the press because it would have been perceived that we were using the players as pawns."

Yesterday, the clubs boycotted an emergency meeting called by Brittle at the East India Club in St James' Square. Indeed, the executive chairman was the only man who turned up. Insiders from Epruc, the clubs' umbrella organisation, claimed Brittle's intransigence had cost him the support of the few club officials who felt the remotest sympathy for his views.

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