Rugby Union: Busy England backed by Scots

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THERE may be no league rugby worth speaking of in England, but if you are an England player there is no escape. Their congested schedule through to next year's World Cup is such that there is no such thing as a weekend off, writes Steve Bale.

Instead, the tour party soon to tour South Africa, Foreign Office advice permitting, gather at Loughborough today for their least-favourite activity, fitness-testing. The pain will be alleviated by yesterday's sponsorship by Scottish - yes, Scottish - Provident.

The deal is said by Brian Moore to be worth a five-figure sum and nearer the upper than lower reaches of that band, so it could be worth something over pounds 2,000 each. The players' activity, non-rugby-related of course, will include wearing the isurance company's leisurewear around South Africa.

This presupposes that the tour proceeds as planned and despite the steady flow of optimistic noises from Twickenham and Johannesburg, the players are still hedging. Whatever the Rugby Football Union finally decides, Will Carling, the captain, wants the decision fully explained to his squad.

He also wants there to be a cut-off point which is not left to the last minute as the RFU has suggested, but in the meantime he and the England pack leader, Moore, are awaiting the aftermath of the South African general election on 27 April.

'No one wants to go into a situation which is life-threatening but, having said that, no one over here really knows what the state of play is, just like people in other countries who believe that London and Heathrow aren't safe,' Moore said yesterday.

England's hooker wants the RFU to take the decision for everyone, not leave an individual opt-out as happened when John Pullin's team fulfilled their fixture in Dublin in 1973. Sam Doble and Peter Larter exercised theirs - and never played for England again.