Clubs on collision path with Scotland and Barbarians

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is barely eight months since Sir Clive Woodward sent a salvo of verbal rockets screaming past the ears of the Scottish Rugby Union following the overblown build-up to the last Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield.

It is barely eight months since Sir Clive Woodward sent a salvo of verbal rockets screaming past the ears of the Scottish Rugby Union following the overblown build-up to the last Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. Yesterday, Anglo-Scottish relations were back in firework territory as Howard Thomas, the chief executive of Premier Rugby and the leading spokesman for the professional club movement in England, confirmed that the teams he represented would not feel obliged to release players for the Scotland-Australia Test in Edinburgh on 6 November.

"That date does not fall inside the accepted autumn international window, and we have sponsors, broadcasters and supporters to think about," Thomas said. "As the International Rugby Board has decided this fixture is not covered by the regulation covering player release, it is our view that release should not take place." Thomas also rounded on the Barbarians-All Blacks game at Twickenham in December, which also falls outside the "window", insisting it should never have been sanctioned in the first place. "There is no doubt that the clubs are at odds with the authorities over this match," he said. "There is too much international rugby; in fact, it is out of control and harming the professional game below it. This is the biggest issue facing the game."

The Baa-Baas match, expected to attract a 70,000 crowd as well as full terrestrial television coverage, falls on a big Heineken Cup weekend and has left senior European Rugby Cup officials spluttering with frustration. They may not, however, be as angry as the Scotland coach, Matt Williams, who now contemplates tackling the Wallabies without the likes of Tom Smith, Robbie Russell, Stuart Grimes, Iain Fullarton, Jason White, Gordon Ross and Ben Hinshelwood, who all earn their corn in the Premiership and are likely to be press-ganged into club activity that weekend.

"It's a disgrace," Williams pronounced. "English clubs won't release their players for a match celebrating the opening of the Scottish Parliament - do the people of Scotland need me to comment on that? I'll leave every Scot in the world to draw their own conclusions. I find it sad that there are fine young men who will be denied an international cap and the chance to play at Murrayfield against one of the best teams in the world."

Tension between the international authorities and the big European clubs seems to be increasingby the day. The Wales-Springboks match on 6 November - which is subject to player- release regulations, for reasons best known to the IRB - has caused such pandemonium in France that there is no guarantee of Gareth Thomas, the new Welsh captain, being freed for the game by Toulouse, who signed the full-back in the summer and have the small matter of a championship meeting with Stade Français that afternoon.

Premier Rugby in England has joined with ERC in complaining of being ignored by the IRB in discussions over the proposed global season. Francis Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, tentatively supports moving the Six Nations to a new April-May slot, which would inevitably mean restructuring the club season. The clubs are unlikely to buy it. "The season works for us now," Thomas said. "We would need to be persuaded that a Premiership beginning in September and ending in May is a bad thing."

The new England captain, Jonny Wilkinson, missed a significant proportion of the two-day squad session at Loughborough University after hurting his right arm during Newcastle's defeat at Wasps last weekend.

Comments