Rugby Union: ITV secures European Cup for pounds 20m

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

DAVID LLEWELLYN

England's players, who have been battling long and hard with the Rugby Football Union to get a financial deal in place before they take on the well-paid South Africans next month, may have had another money-spinning avenue closed off.

The inaugural European Rugby Cup has sold the broadcasting rights to ITV for pounds 20m over the next three years, with the promise of more cash to come from the tournament's sponsors - expected to be the Welsh League backers, Heineken - today.

However, it is by no means certain that English clubs, who, like Scotland, were unable to take part this year, but were expected to participate from 1997-98, will do so. The RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, said last night: "We have certainly made no commitment for next year - or to this competition.

"We strongly support the concept of English clubs in Europe, but we feel that this competition does not have the high profile and organisation that will gain either the money or the public excitement it deserves. We don't want to pour any cold water on their efforts, because in principle we are with them, but we think the competition could be better and when it is, we will join a European competition, or create one ourselves."

The RFU has had a representative, John Jeavons-Fellows, in on the planning of the competition, which has already had inquiries from five other European countries.

One of the tournament directors, Vernon Pugh, the Welsh chairman, said the European Cup - which involves clubs from France, Italy, Ireland, Wales and Romania - had virtually killed off any hopes Kerry Packer may have had of starting a rebel club competition. "Each of the other unions has guaranteed that it would not support any other competition," he said.

Pugh added: "This is a very necessary vehicle for achieving two things: firstly, more funding for clubs; secondly, better competition." Compelling reasons, and although Packer was touting a sum of pounds 50m, there is as yet no guarantee, whereas the ITV deal is secured and, significantly, is unconditional.

Hallett also hinted that the RFU will not budge over the 120-day registration period which has been hampering, among others, Rob Andrew in his recruitment for Newcastle. Hallett explained: "The 120-day regulation is likely to remain in force for the same reason it was introduced, which was to give people time to settle down and to prevent a huge opening up of the market place before people are ready or geared up to take part in it."

The England manager, Jack Rowell, already without Andrew and the Northampton full-back Ian Hunter (virus), for the South Africa match on 18 November at Twickenham, yesterday dropped five other players from his original party of 35 - Richard West (Gloucester), Andy Gomarsall (Wasps), Tim Stimpson (West Hartlepool), Jon Sleightholme (Bath) and Rory Jenkins.

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