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Rugby Union: Epruc threat to England

Representatives of the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs and Twickenham officials were frantically arranging for an urgent meeting last night to try to safeguard England's Five Nations campaign.

A meeting of both teams of negotiators is to be set up within the next 48 hours at which the Rugby Football Union will be asked to explain why a perfectly valid set of clauses in what has come to be known as the Leicester Agreement underwent changes before going for signing by the 24 member clubs of Epruc. Failure to satisfy the clubs in the matter could result in players being withheld from the national squads.

One Epruc official, Charles Levison of Wasps, described the non-release of players by the clubs as "a very real threat". According to Northampton's millionaire backer, Keith Barwell, the redrafted agreement makes no mention of a non-voting player's representative on the board of the proposed new governing body of the club game, Newco, and that a clause allowing members of the board to stand for one year only was introduced.

But according to one member of the RFU's team, any differences between the Leicester Agreement and the version that has been sent out to clubs for signing by 20 January, have to be put down to errors on the part of the legal team drawing up the agreement.

The signs are that peace will break out again; but there were worried frowns all round until late yesterday, when placatory noises issued from both sides. "There is no question of not having a players' representative on the board of Newco," said an RFU source. And evidence that Epruc are equally eager to overcome this latest little niggle came when the Leicester president, Peter Wheeler, a director of Epruc, said: "I've spoken to most of the RFU negotiating team and their lawyers and I am fairly happy that they wish that documentation to reflect the agreement."