Cotton may be first of many to resign at RFU

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The Independent Online

Fran Cotton was never one to walk away from a punch-up, and if he suffered his fair share of lacerations and abrasions as he plotted his route through the sporting jungle, he left the majority of his opponents nursing something far worse. He was quite tough on the field, too. So it came as a considerable surprise to some, if not all, observers of the English game when the great political heavyweight of his generation walked away from his positions on the International Rugby Board and the Rugby Football Union council.

Fran Cotton was never one to walk away from a punch-up, and if he suffered his fair share of lacerations and abrasions as he plotted his route through the sporting jungle, he left the majority of his opponents nursing something far worse. He was quite tough on the field, too. So it came as a considerable surprise to some, if not all, observers of the English game when the great political heavyweight of his generation walked away from his positions on the International Rugby Board and the Rugby Football Union council.

The former England and Lions prop announced his decision yesterday, saying he wanted to devote more time to his business interests, which include a successful sports clothing company based in Altrincham. But RFU insiders suggested that the proximity of his decision to the failure of Jack Rowell's challenge for the vacant role of chairman of the union's management board was far from coincidental. Senior Twickenham figures had predicted a raft of high-profile resignations in the event of Rowell losing to Martyn Thomas, who was elected in London a week ago. According to some, this was the first.

A Lion three times over between 1974 and 1980 - he also managed the successful Lions tour of South Africa in 1997 - Cotton won 31 caps for his country and played in Bill Beaumont's Grand Slam-winning team. But latterly, he was most renowned, and in some quarters revered, for his stand against what he perceived to be the excesses of the new breed of club owners, who piled money into the sport when it went open in 1995 and then sought to protect their investments by creating a power structure of their own. If he won some significant battles, he probably lost the war.

"We are sorry to lose one of the icons of the game," said Malcolm Phillips, the RFU president. "Fran has been a dedicated servant to rugby union through a successful playing career, his management of the British and Irish Lions and as an administrator. His work at all levels has been invaluable."

Few administrators are queueing to jump ship in Wales, thanks to the Grand Slam heroics of the national side. In fact, the game at the top end could hardly be in better shape. Yesterday, the head coach, Mike Ruddock, named a 29-man squad for next month's tour of North America, and despite the absence of 10 front-line players selected for Lions duty in New Zealand, he was able to piece together a party of considerable strength under the captaincy of Mark Taylor, the former Llanelli Scarlets centre who will play rugby with Sale next season.

Taylor was appointed ahead of the Newcastle flanker Colin Charvis, the other obvious candidate for the leadership duties. "Mark is a very senior player," explained Ruddock. "He has the total respect of both the players and the management and is the ideal guy to help bring on some of the young players on this tour. He has a specific role to play and I am sure he will be very successful at it."

There are seven uncapped tourists, the most notable of which is the young Saracens prop Ben Broster. "We have tracked his fitness and performance levels and he has made good improvements in both areas," Ruddock said. "He was particularly impressive against an outstanding Leicester front row in Saracens' recent Premiership win, and has good experience and technical ability at tight-head, where we don't have a huge amount of strength in depth."

On the Premiership front, the Lions flanker Richard Hill starts for Saracens in their wildcard semi-final with Worcester at Vicarage Road tonight.

Wales Squad (for tour to North America next month): Backs: K Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Williams (Cardiff Blues), C Czekaj (Blues), C Morgan (Blues), T Selley (Llanelli Scarlets), M Taylor (Sale, capt), M Watkins (Scarlets), C Sweeney (Dragons), M Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), N Robinson (Blues), M Phillips (Scarlets), A Williams (Bath). Forwards: D Jones (Ospreys), J Yapp (Blues), B Broster (Saracens), A Jones (Ospreys), M Davies (Gloucester), R Thomas (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), L Charteris (Dragons), B Cockbain (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), R Sidoli (Blues), C Charvis (Newcastle), R Jones (Ospreys), R Pugh (Ospreys), R Sowden-Taylor (Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys), A Popham (Leeds).

Itinerary: 4 June - United States (Connecticut), 11 June - Canada (Toronto).

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