Rugby Union: RFU ready to fight all the way

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The Independent Online
FRANCIS BARON has barely had time to familiarise himself with the four walls of his Twickenham office, but the new chief executive of the Rugby Football Union is already following the advice of the great Carwyn James by getting his retaliation in first. Baron set the tone for tomorrow's disciplinary meeting in Dublin by fairly tearing into the International Board and challenging them to do their worst.

The RFU has been summoned before a five-man tribunal to answer what amount to charges of insubordination. Members of the IB's executive committee are none too impressed with the English union's failure to discipline its clubs over their programme of "rebel" matches with the two dissident Welsh clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, and are positively purple-faced over its handling of the hottest political potato in northern hemisphere rugby: the Premiership clubs' attempt to secure their own commercial and negotiating rights through an application to the European Commission.

Four of the most influential administrators in the game - Tim Gresson of New Zealand, Shiggy Konno of Japan, Alan Sharp of Canada and Rian Oberholzer of South Africa - are flying to Dublin today and will join Syd Millar, one of Ireland's representatives on the IB council, in grilling Baron and the RFU delegation. A wide range of sanctions are theoretically available to the IB and, while the widely touted expulsion of England from international competition is a non-starter, senior board members have spoken of the possibility of a heavy fine.

"I'm not happy with talk of a fine," said the forthright Baron during his pre-emptive strike. "The IB argument is flimsy. There are no material grounds for this hearing and there is nothing for us to answer. We will resist vigorously and we will not pull punches."

Any attempt by the IB to impose a meaningful punishment on the English will ensure the swift involvement of the civil courts. "That would be lovely," said one RFU committee man yesterday. "Let's throw what little money we have left at the lawyers."

The Welsh Rugby Union, heavily criticised for its own failure to bring Cardiff and Swansea to heel, is due to face the music in Dublin on Friday. The two refusenik clubs are adamant that they will not return to their own domestic fold and with the English clubs backing their breakaway by giving them regular fixtures, the stage is set for a fight to the finish.

Meanwhile, in London yesterday, the Premiership clubs were negotiating about a new-look European Cup for next season. They were joined by a French delegation led by Serge Blanco, once the greatest full-back on earth. Although the participants described it as a "historic meeting", there was not even the merest whiff of an agreement amid all the hot air.

"Both sides stated their positions, concerns and aspirations and agreed to meet again in Paris next month," said a spokesman for English First Division Rugby, the Premiership clubs' umbrella organisation.

Blanco and his compatriots have hinted that without an English return to European competition next season, there will be no French presence either.

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