Rugby Union: Welsh force players to make pledge: Ultimatum to players

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The Independent Online
THE Welsh Rugby Union yesterday followed its English counterparts in demanding that its clubs sign declarations of compliance with the amateur regulations to withstand the apparently irresistible invasion of professionalism.

The WRU did, however, go a step further than the Rugby Football Union by deciding that its 17,500 senior players would also have to sign declarations, all this - clubs and players - to be completed by 26 November. By a glorious irony, this is the day Wales play South Africa, the first bastion of non-amateurism.

Vernon Pugh, who conveniently doubles as chairman of the WRU and International Rugby Board, warned that any player who refused to sign, or was found to be in breach, would be banned.

Clubs likewise would face the full might of the union: 'If they aren't prepared to sign, I would see it as a clear indication that they aren't playing within the rules.' To ensure enforcement, clubs will have to keep weekly accounts, with expenses to players fully receipted.

Keith Rowlands, the IRB secretary (and himself a former Welsh committee member and international player), said: 'It is a highly commendable step which will produce a lot of discussion among the other member countries. It is possible that other countries will follow Wales's lead, and I personally very much welcome it.'

Maybe, maybe not. As Pugh noted: 'If others wish to cheat, then I'm sorry to say it's a matter for them.' Which does not say much for the IRB's powers of enforcement.

Indeed amateurism is under more or less open assault the world over, specifically from Jacques Fouroux's proposed post- World Cup rugby circus and from an alliance of southern-hemisphere countries who appear ready to ignore the more conservative sensibilities of their northern colleagues.

The issue in Wales has been forced by the mass movement of players during recent close-seasons, with even capped players being content to descend from the First to the Fifth Division of the Heineken League.

'We have come to suspect that the movement of players is being done for reasons financial,' Pugh said.

Yesterday's action was the product of a three-day WRU general committee meeting on amateurism last month which, by another irony, began the day Scott Quinnell joined Wigan.

As the WRU has suffered more than any other home union from rugby league's depredations and has consistently placed itself at the liberal end of the debate over permissible off-the-field earnings, it is slightly surprising to find it now standing four-square with, indeed going further than, the RFU on this vexed issue.

But whether the signing of a piece of paper will actually mean anything is another matter, since in rugby what people say - or sign - is not necessarily what they mean.

Thus when, seven years ago, David Bishop, the Pontypool scrum- half, was 'investigated' by the WRU after travelling to St Helens for an arrival press conference only for it to fall through at the last minute, the conversation went something like this: 'Is it true that you went up to St Helens, David?' 'No.' End of investigation. He had not had to sign a declaration of compliance, but when Bishop later joined Hull Kingston Rovers, he duly admitted that he had indeed been at St Helens all along.