Rugby Union: Cooke comes in to play peacemaker

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The Independent Online
WHILE Twickenham and its recalcitrant senior clubs attempt to patch up their differences, the split within the Rugby Football Union shows little sign of being resolved.

It is expected that negotiations will begin tomorrow between the sides, the clubs having announced that Tom Walkinshaw, of Gloucester, will lead their four-man panel, who include the former England manager Geoff Cooke, the Saracens owner Nigel Wray and Doug Ash, the chief executive of English First Division Rugby.

Cooke immediately played the peacemaker by stressing that England and the clubs have to work together. "The clubs need a national side to be successful," he said. "Rather than this `them and us' attitude all the time there has to be a collective."

However, at the same time that the RFU and the clubs get round the table, Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the RFU management board is to hold a press conference along with Fran Cotton, who resigned as vice chairman in protest at Brittle's exclusion from the talks, and the England coach, Clive Woodward.

"People are so convinced they are right," Cooke said. "It is sometimes good to bring some fresh minds without emotional baggage to see a different perspective. It's a great pity when people like Fran Cotton take it all so personally. The whole thing was going nowhere. Now it has a chance to be resolved."

Cooke is hopeful a compromise can be reached on the subject of international contracts. "I still don't know why the RFU have to sign leading players on contract," he said. "A contract is not needed to secure a player's loyalty. Every player is desperate to play for his country."

Peter Brook, meanwhile, denied claims that he was responsible for Cotton's resignation. "The resolution to form a panel to meet the clubs and, if possible, resolve the disputes with them was proposed by Jonathan Dance, RFU Council member for Berkshire, and not by me," the RFU president said.

The Union's delegates at the talks are the former England centre Malcolm Phillips, ex-England A manager Graham Smith, director of Twickenham Services Terry Burwell, and Trevor Richmond, the chairman of the National Clubs' Association.