Rugby Union: England session called off by RFU

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The Independent Online
The Rugby Football Union yesterday scored a tactical victory by postponing next Wednesday's England training session - thus avoiding confrontation over a possible second boycott - to give players time to consider an increased pay offer which could see them earn pounds 70,000 a season.

However, another problem is looming, with leading referees, many of whom are reported to be unhappy with their arrangements with Twickenham, having been approached on an individual basis by the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs about going along with the clubs' impending breakaway from the RFU.

An Epruc official yesterday confirmed that there had been informal talks with referees and one of the topics was that of full-time professionalism.

"They [Epruc] are seriously talking about a breakaway of players," said a leading referee, who is presently paid pounds 200 per match, "and they seem to think it will happen, so obviously the next in line is us, the referees. They need us to manage the games, so we are clearly going to be dragged into this whole thing. I know they have money available for referees." Whether they would turn professional with Epruc or the RFU, he would not say.

The RFU's new pay offer to England players compares with the pounds 36,000 the ever-presents collected last season in the first year of professional rugby union. The offer - which will double the income of all but the highest earners - comes just over a week after the players' boycott, when more than 40 of them refused to attend a squad session at Bisham Abbey.

They have a scheduled meeting with their own clubs today and this time the players can ask if Epruc is demanding they reject a fortune from Twickenham.

Donald Kerr, the chairman of Epruc, said: "The initial reaction among the squad will be one of disappointment. They believed that they would receive pounds 60,000 plus pounds 3,000 per match - a total of pounds 84,000. But the Epruc issue is not about money. It is about the future of club rugby in a professional age."

However, the Wasps flanker Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the candidates for the England captaincy, seemed perfectly happy with the offer. "We did not know what to expect, just that we wanted more [money] than last year," he said. "But people will play for England regardless of what they are paid."

Unlike the rest of rugby, the Barbarians have refused to succumb in the new professional age and are retaining the amateur principles of no payment for playing. "None of the players invited to date have asked for payment and I hope this will continue," said Micky Steele-Bodger, the club's president and a former England player.

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