Rugby Union: Amateur laws face radical challenge

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A COACH and horses was driven through rugby union's amateurism yesterday when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union declared itself in favour of the game's going professional. It now seems to be a case of when not if.

Before this could happen - officially, at any rate - there would have to be a two-thirds majority on the International Rugby Board to change its very first regulation. But as the chairman of the NZRFU, Eddie Tonks, is also chairman of the IRB, professionalism has as powerful an ally as it could get.

When the board holds its annual meeting next month, the opposition to New Zealand's radicalism will inevitably be led by England - the Rugby Football Union that is, not the England players - though Tonks can count on support from Australia and probably South Africa.

'We aren't going to buck IRB recommendations but we've got to try to change them at that level,' Tonks said yesterday, admitting shamateurism was already rampant. 'We are so close to it (professionalism) at the moment. We either have rules we can all comply with or you cut the rules out.'

Tonks's point about everyone playing by the same rules will be loudly applauded by England players, particularly Brian Moore and Will Carling who have led the way to the off-field earnings that are now graciously permitted by the IRB. Carling, speaking in Edinburgh where he will lead England against Scotland today, said yesterday that the professionalisation of rugby was 'inevitable'. 'The next World Cup will be a watershed,' he added.

Moore, England's pack leader, said: 'I wouldn't mind being a semi-professional player but it's not an issue for me because I have a good job. Players who don't have jobs which offer bright futures

or who eke out a meagre living should have their talent rewarded properly.'

These remarks give the lie to the often repeated fallacy that players do not wish to be paid for running on the field. They most certainly would if the offer were there, though Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, repeated the shibboleth yesterday.

'I'm sure our players don't want to be paid for playing,' he said. 'They are intelligent enough to realise the benefits of having a full-time job compared with being under contract to play rugby exclusively.'

In fact members of both the English and Scottish teams who play at Murrayfield today are already on around pounds 2,000 each for their time and effort - that is, time and effort expended in off- field promotional activities on behalf of sponsors.

Tonks made his remarks after the release of a consultants' report into New Zealand rugby which among other things stated that the National Championship First Division should be reduced from nine to eight provinces and that players should be paid for playing in it.

There is another motivation, however. New Zealand rugby union is running scared of the impact of the Auckland Warriors when they enter Australia's rugby league premiership next year, and Wigan's recent capture of the All Black wing Va'aiga Tuigamala was a powerful reminder of what it stands to lose.