Rugby Union: Australian authorities agree to meet rebels

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The Independent Online
The battle for control of the sport in Australia reached the hand-to- hand phase yesterday when the Australian Rugby Football Union and the rebel World Rugby Corportation agreed to meet to seek a compromise.

The commitment emerged after a marathon meeting involving dozens of Australia's leading players and representatives of both organisations. Despite debating the issues for over five hours, the players failed to reach a consensus on whether to commit to the ARFU or defect.

Phil Kearns, Australia's captain who is a supporter of the WRC plans to overhaul the sport's worldwide structure under the backing of the Australian media magnate, Kerry Packer, said the players hoped the sides could reach agreement.

"The Australian Rugby Union and the WRC people have agreed to talk and that is basically what the players want," Kearns told reporters after the meeting. The players are sticking together but there has been no decision made that the players will go in either direction."

During the meeting in Sydney, the Wallabies selected a seven-man player committee to consider the merits of the contracts and competitions proposed by the ARFU and WRC. Kearns said the committee will examine the issues over the next two weeks before a vote by the players on their collective future.

However, two Wallaby internationals, the centres Jason Little and Pat Howard, have already signed ARFU contracts.

The All Blacks Josh Kronfeld and Jeff Wilson have signed contracts with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in what it called a significant breakthrough in its fight to prevent players from defecting to the WRC.

Spokesmen for several of the country's provincial unions revealed at a news conference that the pair were among several players who had signed with their respective provinces.

The NZRFU now has up to 50 signed contracts from among more than 300 offers in circulation, but Kronfeld and Wilson are the only World Cup All Blacks so far to commit themselves to the establishment.

The French federation will not pay players to play, its president, Bernard Lapasset, said. "The players will be taken into account in the Federation's financial plans... but they will certainly not get any money to play," Lappaset said.

France's leading players had received letters of intent to join the WRC, but Lapasset said players who signed up would not be allowed to stay within the French federation.

Court action by the WRC in Cape Town to enforce agreements with Springbok players has been postponed until today. "They (SARFU) only filed papers half an hour before the hearing and we need time to go through them," Raymond Mallach, the WRC's lawyer, said.