Rugby Union: Pugh investigates duo

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The Independent Online
VERNON PUGH, chairman of the International Rugby Board, left for Sydney yesterday to see Wednesday's Australia-New Zealand Bledisloe Cup match, but more particularly to investigate the unimpeded return to rugby union of two rugby league professionals - an issue that could have profound implications for players in this country, writes Steve Bale.

The Australian Rugby Union decided not to contest Brett Papworth's resumption of his union career when legal advice went against them, and the former Wallaby centre has since been playing club rugby in Sydney. In New Zealand, the former Bradford Northern scrum-half Brett Iti is, with the hindrance of the New Zealand RU, playing again in Auckland.

Both Papworth and Iti are back in rugby union despite the express instructions of the International Board, which has said it will pay for any legal costs incurred by an individual union in fighting a court case.

Pugh, a barrister who also chairs the Welsh Rugby Union, would welcome the matter going to court so that the board would have clear guidance. 'We have the worst of all worlds at the moment,' he said. 'In the Iti and Papworth cases, we are conceding the players' right to return without it being tested in court, whereas at least if it were tested in court we would have a decision one way or the other.'

Pugh concedes that by proceeding in this way rugby union could find itself legally bound to grant the likes of Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs the right of return, which, if it were to happen, would be the most profound change in the relationship between the two rugby codes since the Rugby League was established a century ago.