Rugby Union: English clubs start a new row

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The Independent Online
THE MADNESS continues. After months of bickering over whether to launch a British league or an Anglo-Welsh Premiership, whether or not to continue the costly European Cup boycott and, it is rumoured, what biscuits should be served with afternoon tea at executive board meetings, England's leading professional clubs have unearthed a new bone of contention. Namely, the starting date for next season's domestic programme.

English First Division Rugby, the Premiership teams' umbrella organisation, is split down the middle on the issue. Tom Walkinshaw, the increasingly influential Gloucester owner, is a vociferous supporter of the traditional September kick-off, while others, including Nigel Wray of Saracens, want competitive club rugby dumped on the back burner until the end of the World Cup in November. If the Wray camp wins the day, the league season could well stretch into July, especially if EFDR sanctions a return to the European fold.

This latest disagreement is proving a major obstacle to those attempting to broker a truce between the sport's warring factions. Walkinshaw insists that the rugby public needs something to watch during the autumn, even if the big names are on international duty. His opponents claim gates would be too low to cover the costs of staging matches.

Meanwhile, Howard Thomas, the EFDR chief executive, yesterday attempted to ease the fears of Bristol and Worcester, the Premiership Two promotion favourites, who fear they will be left high and dry by any move towards a new cross-border competition next season. "I understand that some clubs may have concerns about what has appeared in the press, but until the situation is finally resolved there are no grounds for those concerns," he said. "We have set ourselves a deadline of the end of this month to make a decision and the views of the second division clubs will be fully considered."

Talking of chief executives, Bath are well on the road towards appointing one of their own. According to Bob Calleja, the club's new general manager, six candidates have been interviewed and two short-listed.

Scott Hastings was last night confirmed as Watsonians' new director of rugby. The former Scotland and Lions centre will take responsibility for co-ordinating the coaching structure of the club, combined with a role in player recruitment and marketing.