Rugby Union: Greening anger at Gloucester transfer surprise

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The Independent Online
PHIL GREENING, probably the most talented hooker in England and an integral component of Clive Woodward's World Cup planning, was placed on the transfer list by Gloucester yesterday evening. Their decision signalled the beginning of the end of a distinctly uneasy relationship that had been teetering on the edge of open dispute for more than a season.

Greening, a member of England's 26-man party for next month's World Cup qualifying tournament, turned in a brilliant performance in the summer tour match against New Zealand A in Hamilton and came within an ace of beating Richard Cockerill to a Test place. At 23, he will be of obvious interest to any number of top-flight Premiership sides; Saracens will almost certainly take a peek at their recruitment funds, as will Wasps.

John Fidler, the Gloucester team manager, said that Greening could not be guaranteed first-team rugby and, as a result, had been awarded the "excess baggage" label - an apposite description, given the player's occasional weight problems. "The decision involved a great deal of thought and consultation and was not taken lightly," said the former international lock diplomatically. "But both Phil and the club will benefit in the longer term. Unfortunately, situations of this nature arise in the modern professional game."

None of which appeared to dovetail with Greening's version of events. "The news came right out of the blue," he said. "I thought this might have been done at the end of the season. In fact, it wouldn't have been so bad if they'd told me back in the summer, so I could have fixed myself up somewhere else. I've been at the club since I was 16 and I could just stay put for the remaining one and a half years of my contract, but I just want to get away from Gloucester now. I don't want to be there."

His unease with the current Kingsholm regime was an open secret the length and breadth of Gloucestershire; he was in contractual dispute with Richard Hill, the coach, at the beginning of last season and had he not spent much of the campaign on the injury list, their disagreements might well have come to a head sooner. Hill will not be short of hookers, though. Both Neil McCarthy and, particularly, Chris Fortey are extremely well thought of in England's premier front row academy.

Another of Kingsholm's favourite, if slightly troublesome, sons was back in the news yesterday. Mike Burton, the rugby entrepreneur who last week abandoned plans to promote a Wembley testimonial for Will Carling, was preparing to lock horns with officialdom over ticketing arrangements for next year's World Cup.

Burton is urging the European authorities to investigate both pricing and distribution policy and threatening all manner of legal mayhem. "There will be a claim for substantial damages if tickets are allocated while a complaint rests with the EC and the Office of Fair Trading," said the former England prop yesterday.

Burton may be offering World Cup hospitality packages at the best part of pounds 1,000 a time, but he is not at all amused by the pricing strategy currently in place and suspects that the tournament organisers are planning to channel all their business through one officially sanctioned outlet. "Tickets for international matches early in 1999 cost around pounds 30 each. Six months later, World Cup prices will be up around pounds 100 or pounds 150. That cannot be fair or equitable and I have asked the authorities in Europe and in London to look into the matter."

Edinburgh Reivers yesterday cited Hughes Miorin, the Toulouse lock, for foul play following an incident that left their South African-born prop, Matthew Proudfoot, in hospital with a severe neck injury. The Scottish officials say Proudfoot was hurt in an off-the-ball incident during Sunday's European Cup match at Easter Road.