Clubs keep their counsel in response to RFU 'blue skies' report

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union yesterday published the discussion document it hopes will help bring down the curtain on more than a decade of of club-versus-country squabbling, only to be greeted with a deafening silence from the Premiership fraternity.

The 12 top-flight clubs said merely that they would consider the contents of the "Way Forward" report in detail before commenting on the wide range of topics identified by the union as central to the conflict, the most contentious of which include control of England players, promotion and relegation, league size and season structure.

Significantly, the union has left the door open for a change in policy on Premiership relegation, once the most symbolic of issues for those many Twickenhamites who harboured suspicions about the new breed of club owner-investors. "The argument for continuing with promotion and relegation as opposed to affording Premiership clubs greater security of tenure in the league is finely balanced and is dependent on the priorities for the game," says the document, cryptically.

Predictably, the authors of the report, compiled after the RFU's controversial hiring of a City consultancy practice to analyse the current state of professional rugby and engage in a little "blue skies thinking", are much clearer on the issue of central management of the international squad, which they see asessential if England are to regain and maintain a position at the top of the world game. "Overall management of Elite Player Squad members should be the responsibility of the England management team," they say.

Despite the view of several senior RFU figures that the club game would be better served by a 10-team Premiership as opposed to the current 12-team structure, the document backs the status quo. The union will begin discussions with the game's so-called "stakeholders" - the Premiership and National League One clubs, the Professional Rugby Players' Association and commercial partners, among others - from the standpoint that a top-flight expansion to 14 or 16 is unworkable.

A consultation process is due to begin in mid-March and last three months.