Ruck and Maul: Twickenham embraces steamy new tales of rugby in the raw

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The Independent Online

Yes, it is now official, the game has gone completely professional and, in fact, is almost joining the oldest profession. The Rugby Football Union have climbed into bed not with a couple of half-backs, but with Mills & Boon. "No Knickers at Twickers" was the headline of the email flashed from the RFU informing us that they have "teamed up with the world's biggest romance publisher to produce eight raunchy tales from the touchline, including 'The Virgin Secretary's Impossible Boss' and 'The Prince's Waitress Wife'". Had it been 1 April you would have had second thoughts. Is Francis Baron, the RFU's chief executive, being fingered here? Not likely. Nevertheless, it's an intriguing scenario. What's next? A film called 'Carry on Up The Cabbage Patch?' "A steamy series of rugby romances will hit the shelves next month," Jane Barron, the RFU licensing and marketing manager, said. "Rugby has always been a game enjoyed by women, and a partnership with Mills & Boon is a fantastic way to encourage even more women and their families to get involved." Indeed. Publication will coincide with the start of the Six Nations' Championship, offering "great rugby moments and brooding alpha-male sporting heroes... plus a little added ruck and maul." Well, for our part, Ruck and Maul would be willing to lend a hand,but we're tasteful and we're not cheap.

Baron not courting

Me Jane, you Francis! Let's not get carried away. They are not related, apart from the fact that they work together, and in any case the chief exec has been busy on other fronts, employing Peter Thomas as "corporate communications and public affairs director". It's a new position in the RFU (with Mills & Boon on board, what isn't?) and Thomas, who was formerly with a company called Accenture and before that the communications agency Hill and Knowlton, will head up the England media management. That will include "political lobbying and public affairs". In Hitler's day, Goebbels called it propaganda. Now we call it spin. Baron said: "He will provide more focused media support for Martin Johnson." That depends on results, not spin.

Tearing a strip off Falcons

As if the Newcastle Falcons were not in enough trouble, they now have to pay Nike for breaking a kit contract. Newcastle, who have Northern Rock as one of their sponsors (in another century they'd have picked the Titanic) have switched to Cotton Traders, the company run by the former England prop Fran Cotton. The club's latest website shows the new jerseys at 25 per cent off. It also says this: "The kit supplied to the club by Nike for the 2007-08 season proved totally satisfactory in all respects. The club acknowledges that it was at fault in changing its kit supplier for the current season whilst still under contract with Nike. In recognition of this we have agreed to financially compensate them for our error." Some error. Will Nike take the shirts off their backs?

Frosty greeting at Quins

Getting more professional yes, but still trying to escape from amateur habits. The Worcester Warriors have yet to play a match in the new year after last week's game against Sale was postponed and then yesterday's encounter with Harlequins at The Stoop was called off because of a frozen pitch. Quins, who are ideally placed as a magnet for rugby followers in London on a Saturday, said there would be no refunds on tickets until a new date for the fixture has been announced. That's one way of wishing your supporters a happy new year.