Rugby Union: Huff and puff but no action

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THE TALKING heads of British rugby were in full voice once again yesterday but, judging by the complete absence of progress on the sport's diplomatic front, none of them appeared to be making much sense. The major political players in England and Wales continued to grapple with the "great prize" of a British League, only to find their positive ambitions blocked at every turn.

All 28 senior English clubs went face to face with Brian Baister, the newly-elected chairman of the Rugby Football Union's management board, at Castlecroft yesterday in what one insider described as "the most open, frank and positive meeting we've every had with an RFU official".

Forty-eight hours after dismissing the league as a non-starter, the two sides agreed to pursue the idea with renewed vigour and requested that the Welsh Scottish unions respond to the initiative as a matter of urgency.

"I believe we can overcome the reservations expressed by the Welsh at the start of the week," said Donald Kerr, the chairman of English First Division Rugby. "Time is very short but I was pleased with the spirit of unity at the meeting and our aim is now to negotiate, discuss and progress." Baister, meanwhile, talked of a "positive platform from which to move forward".

Sadly, the Welsh appeared to be disappearing in the opposite direction. Within 24 hours of Glanmor Griffiths, the Welsh Rugby Union chairman, declaring himself firmly in favour of the early establishment of a new cross-border competition, an influential body of opinion on the Welsh Rugby Union wanted Cardiff, their most determinedly recalcitrant club, expelled from the fold with immediate effect - a move certain to wreck the prospects of any new tournament being established.

At the same time, Swansea were rumoured to be making their peace with the union by signing the same 10-year loyalty agreement so vehemently opposed by Cardiff. Both clubs had sought access to the English Premiership next season and had signed to play a number of leading Allied Dunbar teams, a contractual wrangle from which those concerned may find it difficult to extricate themselves.

The ongoing farce left the most important sections of rugby population, the players and supporters, seething with frustration. No fixtures have been confirmed for a new English season scheduled to kick off in a little over three weeks and the prolonged hiatus has made life impossible for those charged with promoting and marketing a sport that is fast becoming a very unfunny joke.

"I can't believe what is happening," said a leading official at Richmond yesterday. "We've just moved to Reading, where a brand new rugby audience is ready and waiting to get behind us.

"As it stands, we can't even tell them who we are playing and when. If we're not very careful, we'll lose the public. And if we lose them, we'll lose everything."