Rugby Union: English players refuse to sign

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S players may be winning matches, but they do not appear to be winning too many friends over their refusal to sign the code of practice concerning commercial pursuits introduced earlier this month by the four Home Unions. Indeed, it was even being suggested mischievously yesterday that the door could be slammed on English hopes of a record hat-trick of Grand Slams.

After squeezing out the French last weekend, England are under attack already in Wales a fortnight before attempting to complete their first back-to-back victories in Cardiff. The Welsh are happy with the code and the Scottish and Irish have already signed, leaving an England squad seemingly intent on going their own way.

While the Rugby Football Union has yet to comment, Denis Evans, the secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union, said: 'We've received correspondence from the RFU saying that their players have not yet signed . . . at the last meeting of the Home Unions' working party on amateurism, at which a common code of conduct was agreed upon, it was also confirmed by all the Home Unions that players who would not sign the code would not be picked.'

Geoff Cooke, England's manager, begs to differ, and does not see the players suffering over their stand. 'The players asked for clarification and they are still not prepared to sign,' he said. 'There were no threats or conditions attached to the agreement. They were simply asked if they would sign it and they said no.'

Last week the England squad announced a sponsorship deal that could be worth pounds 6,000 per man this season from personal appearances and there is the promise of more money to come for Player Vision Ltd, the players' own company. While acknowledging that they are bound by International Board regulations, one player said: 'I don't see why further, possibly restrictive, documents should be signed.

'But there is a more fundamental objection. We don't see why, in an amateur game, we should have to sign what amounts to a contract. In effect, the union agrees to do what it has always done and commercial activities are restricted during the match period because we train to win matches and anything else we do we make sure does not conflict with that aim.'

But Evans, who reckoned Welsh players would be receiving pounds 2,000 each for promotional activities, said: 'We now have to consider our next step.' If that sounds worrying for England, they might like to hear another view on the subject. Gavin Hastings, due to lead Scotland at Twickenham on 6 March, said: 'If they don't sign it, they don't sign it. It's not going to make a world of difference to us. We've signed and that's fine, but I don't personally give a damn whether the English players have signed a piece of paper or not. There's no problem from my viewpoint, or indeed, I'm sure, the rest of the Scottish team.'

The South African government yesterday promised to underwrite the 1995 World Cup. President F W de Klerk announced that the government would guarantee all expenses.