Rugby Union: England defy Celtic nations

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TWICKENHAM FINALLY decided to stand up against the Celtic nations yesterday, challenging Ireland, Scotland and Wales to give proof of a misdemeanour grave enough to warrant their proposed expulsion from the Five Nations' Championship.

That is threat which hangs over England this morning - we seem to have been here before. The Rugby Football Union has until midday today to supply the Five Nations' committee with written confirmation agreeing to a share- out of the broadcasting spoils - thought to be around pounds 6m - from matches involving England and the disaffected three at Twickenham. This was something that was agreed between the four home unions and France just over two years ago, the last time England were threatened with expulsion from the tournament.

The Five Nations' chairman, Allan Hosie, issued the ultimatum on Saturday, saying: "Contingency arrangements have been made should the RFU not be in a position to sign the request. If they do not they will be expelled from the Five Nations. It will be as simple as that. We want the RFU to give their unequivocal support to the Accord. All we have so far is a letter from their solicitors saying they regard the Accord as invalid and therefore unenforcable."

If England are expelled, their place in the tournament will be taken by Italy, who are scheduled to turn the championship into the Six Nations' next season.

Vernon Pugh, chairman of the International Board, said: "This is not sabre rattling. We can't afford the divisions which blew up a couple of years ago.

"Everybody has to work together, and England have to realise that tournaments are not devised purely for their benefit."

But last night the RFU chief executive, Francis Baron, said: "Allan Hosie is ignoring me and I am surprised at his attitude and behaviour. I have never called the Accord invalid and I am not sure what we are alleged to have done.

"I'd like to know which clause we have broken, because if we have broken no rules we cannot be expelled. I would say to Mr Hosie, if you can't back up your threats, then please shut up.

"I am still awaiting communications from Mr Hosie and the Five Nations. I don't understand why Allan has not simply picked up the phone and I find his misrepresentation of our position astonishing."

Last night the RFU president, Brian Baister, said: "If we are expelled, and we can see no legal reason why we should be, we will take immediate legal advice."

The RFU claims it has tried on a few occasions to get in touch with Hosie to talk over changes to the original Accord, to accommodate Italy's impending membership and to discuss the non-appearance of Sky television revenue.

Baron added: "He [Hosie] has cancelled three meetings. All it needs is one simple meeting to tidy up and update the agreement."

Baron and Baister are expected to get in touch with the other members of the Five Nations committee this morning, although apparently no formal meeting is scheduled.