Clubs threaten legal action over extra England autumn international

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The Premiership clubs have not entered into any such agreement, so the home team may yet take the field with a starting XV made up of elderly debenture holders, but the Rugby Football Union is so confident of solving its various disputes in good time for the match that it has already signed a broadcasting deal with the BBC.

Francis Baron, the RFU's chief executive, spent much of yesterday denying that he was taking a mighty gamble in assuming Premier Rugby, the élite clubs' umbrella organisation, would sanction the release of leading international players for the game - a fixture over and above the two-match series with the Springboks and the one-off Test against Argentina, also scheduled for November.

"Everyone knows we have yet to reach agreement with Premier Rugby," Baron said when it was suggested he might be guilty of selling rights to a political football rather than a game of rugby.

"We're all grown-ups here, so I very much hope common sense will prevail. We have offered a commercial package worth £1m to the clubs in respect of this match, plus compensation to those who can show their league matches were adversely affected by the live television broadcast. Player release is covered by our existing agreement with the clubs, so I don't see a problem. When the dust settles, I'd like them to join us as enthusiastic participants in the event, rather than snipe at us from the sidelines."

There was sniping aplenty yesterday, with Premier Rugby threatening legal action. The clubs are withholding support pending discussions on their far-reaching proposals for a new accord with the RFU, to replace the Long Form Agreement when it expires in 2009. Some ideas are likely to win support from Twickenham; others will be rejected.

Meanwhile, the RFU is preparing a range of counter-suggestions, including the creation of a new top tier of domestic rugby based on 16 franchised teams.

"We've put forward a series of recommendations that provide significant benefits to club and country," said Baron's opposite number at Premier Rugby, Mark McAfferty. "These discussions are continuing, but as nothing has been finalised, an extra international with New Zealand cannot be seen in isolation. We'll be writing to the RFU before seeking a court declaration on the issue of the proposed game."

All of which will go clean over the heads of the Argentinians, who will play England for nothing, six days after the All Blacks leave Twickenham with a seven-figure cheque. The Pumas match is part of the International Rugby Board's tour schedule, so the RFU is under no obligation to offer either a cut of the gate receipts or an appearance fee.

The All Blacks, on the other hand, have sold their services for the afternoon, for a very good price. "We usually make around £4m profit from a fixture of this magnitude, but we'll be significantly down on that figure for the New Zealand game," confessed Baron.

* Flanker Joe Worsley has withdrawn from England's game against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday with a back injury and is replaced by his Wasps club-mate James Haskell.

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