Rugby Union: England players not talking to RFU: 'Shop steward' Moore and fellow-internationals break off relations as revelations over payments continue to annoy

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The Independent Online
RELATIONS between the England squad and their governing body are plumbing new depths, with the former refusing to talk to the latter, as the argument over amateurism in rugby union reveals the chasm between the attitudes of national administrators and international players.

Those who toured South Africa two months ago crave the same benevolent treatment as their Springboks counterparts, who have the active support of their national and provincial rugby unions to make as much as possible out of their fame in the game.

However, the Rugby Football Union camp-following, which was also in South Africa, is so alarmed at rugby's overt professionalism there that it wants the International Rugby Board to rein in the South Africans. There was never any prospect that the RFU would respond pro-actively on behalf of its own players' earning capacity.

Thus Brian Moore, England, hooker, pack leader and unofficial shop steward, has in effect given up on the RFU, and so, he says, have his team-mates. 'When it becomes quite apparent that one country is openly semi-professional, it must raise questions about the ability of the IRB to govern its own sport and about the stance of the Rugby Union, which has reduced the relationship between players and the union to complete and utter contempt,' he said.

'It's at rock-bottom. We've told them there is no point in meeting them, because for 2 1/2 to three years we've been in meetings with them and despite good words and promises nothing has happened. We've had to get on with our own thing.' Their own thing is the players' Run With The Ball campaign, a self-help scheme in direct contrast to union-sponsored support of players in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Relations between the England players and the RFU have been chilly ever since the IRB liberalised the amateur regulations to permit payments for off-field, supposedly non-rugby-related, activity. Moore and company have consistently regarded the RFU's attitude as old-fashioned, unhelpful and sometimes downright obstructive. They contrast it with that of other unions, particularly in the southern hemisphere.

And then came the tour to South Africa, where no one any longer pretends rugby is amateur. 'Previously players in this country, especially young players, had only heard that in other countries it was different - and had always been told by the union that there was no evidence,' Moore said.

'But, now that these young players have experienced what some of the older players have been telling them for some time, they are pretty angry. To tour in South Africa was an eye-opener for the younger players. I have no complaint; the South Africans, and anyone else, can make as much as they like, and good luck to them. All I'm saying is we should have the same opportunity.'

The reasoned argument in favour of retaining amateurism was consistently articulated - even in South Africa - by Ian Beer during his term as RFU president. 'I ask the International Board as a matter of urgency to decide whether it wants this great amateur game to stay amateur - in which case it must take action - or announce that the game is to go professional,' he said. 'To continue as we are is dishonest.'

As it happens, the IRB is investigating amateurism and it is reasonable - not withstanding the RFU's potential objections - to anticipate a further move away from the old amateurism either at the board's interim meeting in Vancouver in October or at the annual meeting in London in the spring, shortly before next year's World Cup in South Africa.

Vernon Pugh, the IRB's chairman, is off to Australia next month to investigate why Brett Papworth, a former Wallaby who turned professional, is now playing rugby union again in Sydney despite the board's express refusal to reinstate him. The answer is that Papworth has legal opinion on his side.

As for the amateur regulations, it is highly unlikely the line will be held at simple relaxation. As an instructive letter from South Africa in Rugby World magazine, written by Keith Parkinson, president of the Natal Rugby Union, put it: 'The 'snowball' of professional rugby union is rolling inexorably downhill and gathering weight day by day, and I predict that shortly after Rugby World Cup 1995 the introduction of some form of professionalism into the game at the higher level will be inevitable.'

Moore cheerfully agreed that rugby union's profssionalisation was irreversible: 'The whole thing has gone. The game will be fully semi-professional by the 1999 World Cup. What will happen is the '95 World Cup will add a great stimulus to the semi-professional game. It's already semi-pro in four or five of the top eight IRB countries, and the rest will follow suit.

'The disappointing thing is that the argument has been advanced beyond recall and yet you still have people who aren't facing up to the challenge. To pretend it doesn't exist is a nonsense.'

Springboks sackings, page 31

(Photograph omitted)

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