Rugby Union: Warren foots the wages bill

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ANYONE bold enough to pick a fight with a certain electronically- coiffeured American boxing promoter by the name of Don King is unlikely to be scared witless at the thought of strike action from a couple of dozen under-performing rugby players from Bedford. Nevertheless, the shop- soiled stewards of Goldington Road congratulated themselves on a minor victory yesterday when Frank Warren, their owner, paid the first team squad their overdue wages.

"I have the players' cheques with me and Frank has delivered what he promised," proclaimed a club spokesman, Richard Hart, speaking shortly after the agreed 2pm deadline. "It's business as usual." Or rather, not business as usual. Bedford's beleaguered professionals had been forced to familiarise themselves recently with an exceedingly amateur pay policy. That is to say, no pay at all.

Warren's ongoing legal dispute with King resulted in the High Court's imposition of a freeze on his assets and, as a result, the Bedford players briefly threatened strike action in the run-up to their opening home game with Cardiff 10 days ago. As it has turned out, the more militant squad members may now be wishing they had gone through with the stoppage. Defeat by Cardiff was quickly followed by a second disappointment at Sale in last Saturday's Allied Dunbar Premiership fixture.

Meanwhile, another of this season's obvious Premiership also-rans, West Hartlepool, have decided they are better equipped to square up to the big guns off the field rather than on it. Andy Hindle, the club chairman, yesterday tore into the leadership of English First Division Rugby, the professional clubs' umbrella organisation, accusing them of operating a self-serving cabal.

Hindle is none too impressed at the way the EFDR executive - Donald Kerr of Harlequins, Sir John Hall of Newcastle, Tom Walkinshaw of Gloucester and Saracens' Nigel Wray - have dominated the recent political manoeuvrings. "It's little more than a quango," he said. "It's a self-appointed group who effect to speak for the whole of EFDR and it needs replacing. Those on any executive should be democratically elected and this aspect of how we run our affairs needs looking at."

It may well be looked at today, when the EFDR board get together for their monthly chinwag. Kerr's position as chairman is rumoured to be under threat, possibly from Northampton's Keith Barwell, although no one has placed a confidence motion on the agenda.

"I want to know why the whole membership wasn't told about a fresh proposal to enter the European Cup," said Hindle, referring to EFDR's boycott of this season's competition. "The first I knew of it was when I read it in the newspapers, but apparently the executive took it upon themselves to reject the plan without consultation. We have to get this right and take a more conciliatory tone with the Rugby Football Union."

The Irish selectors have omitted Kevin Nowlan, the St Mary's College full-back capped three times last season, from a 47-man squad due to gather in County Wicklow on Sunday for a four-day training get-together. Another capped full-back, Ciaran Clarke of Terenure, has also been overlooked.

David Campese has been named as a replacement in Will Carling's World XV to play Fiji in the former England captain's testimonial match at Wembley on 4 December

WORLD XV (v Fiji, Wembley, 4 December): Cullen; Vidiri, Bunce (all NZ), Sailor (Aus), Lomu (NZ); Carling (Eng, capt), Howley (Wal); Grau (Arg), Williams (Wal), Wallace (Irl), C Quinnell (Wal), Eales (Aus), Jones (NZ) S Quinnell (Wal), Pienaar (SA). Replacements: Jones (Wal), Pichot (Arg), Rush (NZ), Campese (Aus).