Rugby Union: World Cup ban fear for RFU

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The Independent Online
OFFICIALS IN Twickenham were last night trying to contact the Rugby Football Union chairman, Brian Baister, to get the go-ahead to set up last ditch talks with Allied Dunbar Premiership clubs to try to thrash out a solution to the fixture fiasco which is threatening all sorts of dire consequences for the game in this country, including the possible expulsion of England from next year's World Cup.

The top 14 English clubs have entered into an agreement with Cardiff and Swansea to play them during the season on Saturdays when there is a Premiership programme. The Welsh Rugby Union recently announced that, although it agreed with cross-border competition in principle, it could not sanction either a British League or a more modest Anglo-Welsh set- up this season. It is rumoured the WRU will report Twickenham to the International Board and demand some form of punishment - expulsion from the World Cup in Wales is the hot tip - should any matches go ahead.

Yesterday afternoon the clubs were sent a letter by the RFU saying the first five weeks' fixtures were agreed, provided seven Premiership matches took place rather than the six proposed by the clubs, because two of their number would be engaged in friendlies against the two Welsh clubs.

The season opens next week when Bedford are down to face Cardiff, while their scheduled Premiership opponents for that particular day, West Hartlepool, travel to Swansea. But judging by the reaction of Saracens' chief executive, Mike Smith, there is little hope.

Speaking at the launch of the 27th annual Rothmans Rugby Yearbook, Smith said: "They can't stop us. We have been playing friendlies for years and have never had to seek permission to play. We are not a group of renegades. This has not been done off the cuff. A lot of thought has gone into this."

But last night Terry Burwell, the Director of Twickenham Services, whose remit covers domestic competitions, admitted the RFU wants to reach a compromise before next Saturday and find a solution acceptable to both sides.

To do this he wants to set up talks as soon as possible between the clubs and the RFU. "We believe we have to negotiate a solution," insisted Burwell, "and I am hoping Brian Baister will contact us tonight and give us a mandate to sit down with the clubs and try to find a solution".

Baister, on a diplomatic mission to the Southern Hemisphere, is in Sydney for tomorrow's match between Australia and New Zealand. In his absence the RFU president, Peter Trunkfield, voiced his fears if matters could not be sorted out. "If we approved these games [being played on Premiership Saturdays] we would be in direct contravention of IRB regulations, and I don't want England to run the risk of being thrown out of the World Cup."

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