Rugby Union: RFU left waiting for the postman to deliver

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To be told, at the start of a 24-hour postal strike, that you will be notified by letter of perhaps the most important decision in your history is hardly encouraging. However the Rugby Football Union just has to brace itself and await the written decision of the Five Nations committee following their six hours of deliberations in a hotel near London's Heathrow Airport on Monday.

The matter under discussion was Twickenham's new set of proposals for the broadcast rights for the Five Nations tournament. There were no clues from any of the delegates who took part in the meeting as to how they had reacted to those proposals. Tom Kiernan, chairman of the Five Nations committee, said: "We had extensive discussions and will be replying to the Rugby Football Union in the next 48 hours."

The Scottish RU president Fred McLeod added that the letter to the RFU from the four nations was seeking clarification of "private and confidential proposals" by Twickenham. "We remain neither confident nor pessimistic," McLeod said, "and hope that another meeting of the Unions and the RFU can take place within the next 10 days."

It is believed the RFU was willing to concede the principle that no one country could negotiate independently with broadcast companies for the rights to screen, live, any matches in the championship, no matter where they took place. To this end it is thought that the RFU has suggested that, although their pounds 87.5m contract with BSkyB is legally binding, within it they have a certain amount of flexibility.

It is likely that one of the concessions offered to the other four unions was a willingness on the part of the RFU to release a substantial portion of the Sky cash to be put towards a pot, to which the other nations would also contribute cash, the whole to be shared equally among all five.

But cash alone is unlikely to appease Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France. It is likely that they would also want to see terrestrial broadcasting companies being included in the rights discussions. Talk of a 50-50 share of rights with the satellite company is probably what they would be looking to see the RFU suggesting. Even then they may simply want BSkyB to accept simultaneous live transmission with a terrestrial station, contrary to the deal that Twickenham has agreed with Rupert Murdoch's company.

Under that deal a terrestrial company will have to bid for secondary rights to broadcast matches some two hours after the final whistle. That deal covers all matches played in England, from Five Nations (two per year) and all other internationals, right down through the representative layers and on to club rugby. If the RFU concedes exclusive rights to the other four countries, then BSkyB may have a hard time trying to sell any package which no longer includes the audience-pulling Five Nations matches.

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