Rugby Union: Cotton resigns from RFU board

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The Independent Online
THE civil war between the Rugby Football Union and the game's leading clubs took a series of dramatic turns at Twickenham yesterday - and that was off the pitch. Fran Cotton resigned as vice-chairman of the RFU's management board.

In the long-running power struggle between the establishment and the leading clubs, which has torn the game apart, Cotton and Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the RFU management board, had formed a powerful alliance.

Cotton will remain on the RFU Council as the Lancashire representative, but relinquished his role as vice-chairman (in charge of playing) because he felt his position had been undermined. His decision followed an announcement earlier in the day that Brittle was to be excluded from a working group to be set up by noon tomorrow to resolve in principle the two-year-old dispute between the leading clubs and the game's governing body.

Brittle's apparent demise and Cotton's resignation appear at first sight to be a significant victory for the money men running the top clubs. They also end the dream that both men shared of revolutionising the way the game is run. They had published a two-part paper, Rugby Restructured 2000, Part I, (Brittle) and Part II, Club England (Cotton). It is unlikely now that those plans will go any further.

When a month-long moratorium, until the next council meeting, prohibiting any member of the RFU from negotiating contracts with England players was also agreed at Friday's RFU Council meeting, that was the last straw so far as Cotton was concerned. Only 24 hours earlier, the former England and British Lions prop had had his role in charge of players and playing contracts confirmed by Brittle at a management board meeting.

The setting-up of the working party and the moratorium effectively reduce Cotton's powers. Further, the specific exclusion of Brittle, the chairman of the management board, from the four-man working party also upset Cotton, because he has championed Brittle's cause since the Isle of Man-based tax exile first came to prominence in January 1996.

Last night Cotton said: "I can't do the job I was entrusted to do. I had no option but to resign." Cotton is believed to have informed Brittle and England coach Clive Woodward of his decision.

Cotton feels particularly let down that people who attended Thursday's management board meeting did not speak up at the time, but rather waited another day before voicing their support to the setting up of the working party and the effective overthrowing of Brittle.

The "gang of four" is believed to comprise RFU president Peter Brook, International Board representative John Jeavons-Fellows and council members Brian Baister and John Morten. Cotton added: "Peter Brook is doing everything to undermine the management board. I was very hurt by the treatment."

The working party will be selected by Brook, vice-president Peter Trunkfield and Brittle and will be given the authority to meet with representatives of the 24 clubs in the Premier Leagues One and Two to resolve in principle and as far as possible by 1 May the current points of the dispute, including: 14-club Leagues, participation in Europe; contracting of players by the RFU and provincial rugby at senior level - the last was part of the Brittle- Cotton vision.

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