Rugby Union: What price the peace?

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The Independent Online
The Great Reunion continued yesterday following the Rugby Football Union's unanimous ratification of the proposed agreement among the Five Nations. Details of the deal between the unions of England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are to be announced in Dublin on Monday, but the most important tournament in the northern hemisphere is safe for a while now.

Whether there will be any leading players from England taking part is another matter, for the thorny issue of the threatened boycott of England's next training session on 24 September is still unresolved.

The English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, representing the country's top 24 outfits, have received the whole- hearted support of the bulk of the England training squad, and so are not going to give in on their demands lightly, if at all. They want virtual control of their own competitions, primacy of contract with their players, a say in disciplinary and registration matters, as well as holding their own purse strings.

It is difficult to see who holds the aces: England's re-entry into the Five Nations is a guarantee of international rugby, but Epruc has the players.

Even the England coach, Jack Rowell, does not know what the outcome will be, and he sounded fearful yesterday. "The indications are that we could have a repetition of Wednesday's no-show by the players when we stage our next training session on Wednesday week, unless the problem is sorted out swiftly," he said. "I understand that we are in another dimension and that the players are professionals. I will be naming a squad next week and we will await events."

Fran Cotton, a former England captain and now manager of next year's Lions tour to South Africa, echoed Rowell's doubts. "I still fear a worst- case scenario of Epruc forming a rebel competition. The Lions would not be able to choose players who did not represent their official home union," he said.

Both men welcomed the restoration of the Five Nations to its full format, but the French Federation president, Bernard Lapasset, highlighted the need for the tournament to be revamped: "We have to recognise that the tournament is no longer unique. We must think about other forms of competition on the global stage."