Andrew turns back on 'reneging' RFU

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The man they christened "Squeaky Clean" has finally grown tired of the dirty side of sporting politics and effectively told Twickenham where it can shove its petty internal squabbling.

The man they christened "Squeaky Clean" has finally grown tired of the dirty side of sporting politics and effectively told Twickenham where it can shove its petty internal squabbling.

Rob Andrew, the most decorated outside-half in red rose history and by some distance the most gifted of the new generation of club managers, yesterday severed his links with the influential Club England committee in protest at the failure to implement a blueprint for the future of the professional game in England approved by the national union as long ago as last April. His decision came as no surprise to anyone.

After Andrew's improving Newcastle side had lost narrowly at Bath last month, the architect of the Club England proposals admitted that he had become disillusioned with the endless arguing over certain aspects of the plan - notably, the move towards a ring-fenced franchise system and tighter restrictions on promotion and relegation - and was no longer attending meetings. "Certain people are charged with bringing the plan to fruition and if they can't manage it, they should step aside and let others take over," he said that day.

Yesterday, he attacked the Rugby Football Union for failing to settle the festering dispute with the Second Division clubs over promotion, accusing the governing body of "reneging" on the issue. "The plan was approved on 7 April and still there is no agreement," he said. "The failure to implement the plan is causing extreme financial difficulties for the professional clubs; the leading players in the country are relying on the goodwill of the club owners to fund the professional game, and it is totally unreasonable for businesses to wait nearly six months for the implementation of a plan already agreed and approved."

Leading RFU figures, including the chairman, Brian Baister, and the chief executive, Francis Baron, insist they cannot release any of the new money available under the terms of the agreement until the promotion issue is settled. To that end, they have invited all 26 clubs from the top two divisions to a round-table get-together hosted by an independent facilitator in the august shape of Sir Oliver Popplewell, a High Court judge. The Premiership clubs have reacted violently to the idea, however; today, Tom Walkinshaw and Peter Wheeler, two of the major movers and shakers on the board of English First Division Rugby, are expected to map out their strategy for a battle that threatens to take the sport to the brink of meltdown.

Fran Cotton, the chairman of Club England, spoke of his regret at Andrew's decision, but said his committee remained determined to secure an agreement.

However, Cotton has been no great friend of the professional clubs over the last five years of open hostility - indeed, the club owners view the motives of the former England and Lions prop with the utmost suspicion. Cotton has close links with the grass-roots Reform Group, which will almost certainly press for a Special General Meeting of the union if Baron opens the purse strings and starts paying the Premiership contingent what they insist they are owed.

There was happier news on the other side of the Severn Bridge yesterday when Mark Taylor, the Swansea centre, was named as Wales captain for the autumn Tests against Samoa, the United States and South Africa. Taylor has been in white-hot form all season and it was no great shock when Graham Henry, the national coach, asked him to take over the reins from the injured Cardiff prop, David Young. "We are looking for a captain to take us through to the 2003 World Cup and beyond," said Henry, hinting that he sees the 27-year-old midfielder as something more than a caretaker captain.

In Ireland, there was disappointment for a number of Test hopefuls - not least the Bath centre Kevin Maggs and the Munster flankers, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan - when Warren Gatland named a 24-man squad for the international with Japan on Saturday week. Another Munsterman, Mick Galwey, also misses out because of damaged knee ligaments. Keith Wood, of Harlequins, will captain the side.

Comments