Rugby Union: Baister is the honest broker

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BRIAN BAISTER, chairman of the Rugby Football Union's Board of Management, has emerged as the honest broker in the dispute between Rotherham and English First Division Rugby over a possible breach of the Mayfair Agreement by EFDR, the RFU and English Rugby Partnership, the umbrella organisation for the clubs in the top two divisions.

The row over whether EFDR had flouted Mayfair by reducing the size of Division One of the Allied Dunbar Premiership from 14 clubs to 12 has already required Rotherham to pay pounds 100,000 into court as security for costs. The south Yorkshire club, who feel they should be promoted to fill one of the places vacated by Richmond and London Scottish, have been joined in their petition by English Second Division Rugby. The adjourned case is scheduled to resume in the High Court on Monday week.

Until Baister's intervention, there had been no hint of a rapprochement. But after a meeting between Baister, Richard Greenwood, the chairman of ESDR, and Mike Yarlett, the principal director and wealthy benefactor of Rotherham, the mood appears to have changed. The intransigence has been replaced by a more emollient tone from three of the parties at least. Only EFDR has yet to declare for peace.

Still wrestling with the Lawrence Dallaglio affair, and with the memory of their temporary expulsion from last season's Five Nations still fresh in the mind, the last thing the RFU wants is to be dragged through the courts in what could prove to be a costly legal action. "We want to bring all parties together," Baister said. "I have suggested that we meet as soon as possible next week. This we are going to do, under my chairmanship, and I hope we will be able to do so without the lawyers being present. My earnest wish is that we will be able to settle this matter without having to face one another across a court room."

If agreement is to be reached before the case comes to court, any change in EFDR's position will need the approval of their chairman, Tom Walkinshaw, who returns tomorrow. Walkinshaw may take some persuading to change his mind on an issue about which he has been outspoken. But with the new season starting in four weeks, Baister has raised hopes that the turmoil will have ended before then.

Dallaglio, charged by the Rugby Football Union with bringing the game into disrepute, will face a disciplinary hearing on August 25-26. In a statement yesterday the RFU said it was later than it had hoped for but the date had been requested by the player's legal team.

Disciplinary proceedings have been instigated over newspaper allegations that Dallaglio took recreational drugs during the British Lions tour to South Africa in 1997.

Dallaglio resigned the England captaincy in May following the allegations, but three weeks ago the RFU cleared him to train with the rest of the England squad.

The 26-year-old flanker denies the charges and says he wants to bring the matter to a close as soon as possible.