Rugby Union: Signs of dissent over Epruc breakaway

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The Independent Online
There were signs last night of a split in the ranks of the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs. Sale, Orrell, Wakefield and Waterloo are reported to be meeting today to discuss the proposed breakaway by Epruc from the Rugby Football Union.

West Hartlepool could well join that disaffected group. They are to hold an EGM on 4 October at which they intend to propose to the membership that they approve a change of rules allowing them to sever links with Twickenham. Resistance to that motion is now expected.

Frank Gibbon, a former president of West, said: "A number of the club members are very upset. I intend to mount opposition to these moves. It is time the ordinary players, members and supporters had a say in it.

"People are sick of sharp- suited businessmen trying to run our game. We don't believe that any more than a handful of clubs actually want to leave the RFU."

West are one of half a dozen First Division clubs owned by their membership, the others include Leicester - leading lights in Epruc through their president and chief executive, Peter Wheeler - Gloucester, Orrell, Sale and London Irish. In Gloucester's case, the indications are that they would only go with Epruc if every other First Division club.

Members of Sale and Orrell were prominent in the recent threatened split in the RFU over the controversial BSkyB deal and the consequent threat to the Five Nations' Championship, which has now been resolved. The fear among many northern clubs in the top two divisions is that being nearer the breadline than those in the vanguard of the Epruc movement, they would be abandoned sooner rather than later by their wealthy brethren.

The 24 clubs in the top two divisions have until 11 October to decide, at which point Epruc has said its clubs will break away unless some solution has been found with Twickenham. Talks between the two sides were held earlier this week, raising hopes a compromise could be reached that would allow the clubs to remain in the RFU while having the independence to run their own competitions and finances.

One of those competitions is likely to be a European tournament. The proposed European Cup is still in doubt after ITV asked for a further 48 hours to consider issues raised at a meeting on Monday with officials from ERC Ltd, who run the competition for the Five Nations.

The International Board's emergency committee reportedly met on Monday to discuss the concerns of Louis Luyt, president of the South African RFU, that the Lions' tour party to South Africa would be below strength because of the split between international players and the England management.

The Bristol lock Phil Adams has became the first domestic player to be fined for breach of contract since the game went professional. The forward was fined the equivalent of six match fees by the club's disciplinary committee after he was sent off for stamping during the Courage League match at Northampton.

Wales prefer mobility, page 25