Rugby Union: English put the blame on Pugh

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ENGLAND'S LEADING clubs yesterday accused Vernon Pugh, the chairman of the International Rugby Board, of wrecking their attempt to form a British league. In a statement that effectively signals a new era of open warfare between the clubs and the governing body of the world game, they labelled Pugh as "at best disingenuous and at worst deliberately obstructive".

The perception of Pugh as professional club rugby's public enemy No 1 has increased since this week's farcical committee room fracas between the national unions. Having signalled their support for the immediate establishment of a new cross-border competition involving the top sides from England, Wales and Scotland, the Welsh changed their tune on Thursday and slammed the door on the process.

The clubs believe Pugh had some influence over the decision, even though the former chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union has spent all week in Argentina on IB business. "He has a conflict of interest and we believe he should declare it and step aside from the negotiations on the formation of a British league immediately," said Doug Ash, the chief executive of English First Division Rugby.

Pugh has declared open season on the English clubs ever since their decision to seek European Commission adjudication on the legality of a number of IB regulations they consider to be contrary to competition law. Twice this week the WRU have cited the EC application as the major stumbling block to the British league idea.

Brian Baister, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union, conceded defeat on the league front. "We share the frustration of the clubs, unions, players and supporters that the competition cannot be put in place for this season," he said. "There is, though, a common desire to examine ways of building an exciting future for northern hemisphere rugby."

In the short term the club game looks bleak. The English can at least embark on a programme of Allied Dunbar Premiership matches but the Welsh, still in dispute with both Cardiff and Swansea, and the Scots face problems in formulating a competitive fixture list.