Pay unrest displaces pride in undervalued Lions squad

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The Independent Online

The leading players in the British Isles are demanding a significant hike in wages on future Lions tours after being asked to travel to New Zealand this summer for scarcely more than they earned in Australia four years ago. The 2005 Lions will be paid a basic £20,000 for the 11-match campaign in All Black country - a far more demanding proposition than the shorter, less intense trip to Wallaby land - plus any performance-based increments they may accumulate. Should they win the Test series 3-0, they will be paid £27,000 a man.

The leading players in the British Isles are demanding a significant hike in wages on future Lions tours after being asked to travel to New Zealand this summer for scarcely more than they earned in Australia four years ago. The 2005 Lions will be paid a basic £20,000 for the 11-match campaign in All Black country - a far more demanding proposition than the shorter, less intense trip to Wallaby land - plus any performance-based increments they may accumulate. Should they win the Test series 3-0, they will be paid £27,000 a man.

This year's tourists might have earned as much as £41,000 apiece, but that prospect evaporated when the clubs and provincial sides of the four home countries prised player release fees of £15,000 per individual from the Lions' organisers. As Sir Clive Woodward, the Lions coach, intends to name a party of at least 45 players, the best part of £750,000 has disappeared from the coffers.

"It may be that some money will go into a players' pool, and if we can get that up to £5,000 a man, the payments will be more realistic," said one negotiator yesterday. "But when you look at the thing coldly it is not a king's ransom, given that the Lions represent the very pinnacle of British and Irish rugby.

"One of the problems is the size of Woodward's squad, which makes this a very expensive tour; another is the television arrangement in the southern hemisphere. The Lions will not get a penny of the broadcasting revenues, because the rights were sold by the Sanzar countries as part of their overall package. In Lions terms, they sold 100 per cent of something that was only 50 per cent theirs to sell. Unless that is addressed, we'll have problems."

Howard Thomas, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, defended the release fees. "It is not a perfect solution by any means, but the money at least goes some way towards acknowledging the contribution of the clubs in producing players of international standard. I don't think £20,000 is a great deal, given the intensity of the tour, but I don't think it is negligible either. You have to remember that those on tour will still be being paid by their clubs."

Even so, a number of players are deeply dissatisfied with the rate on offer, which they consider to be at the very lowest end of the scale. They want the issue sorted well in advance of the 2009 Lions trek to South Africa, the planning of which will begin later this year.

Money is the last thing on the mind of one cast-iron certainty for the forthcoming tour, the new England captain Martin Corry. The No 8 spent yesterday talking about pride and responsibility rather than filthy lucre, and did it so persuasively that he left his audience with the strong impression that England had finally found the ideal successor to Martin Johnson, if only by default. Should he succeed in restoring a Johnsonesque edge against Italy at Twickenham this weekend, he may find himself on leadership duty for the foreseeable future.

"I can't say I've prepared myself for this," admitted Corry, appointed as a consequence of the thumb injury suffered by Jason Robinson during the Six Nations defeat in Dublin. "But now I'm here, it's a question of working out what needs to be done. I suppose it will be a matter of saying the things I would normally keep to myself. I'll still be me. I'm the one who's put myself in this position, so I'd be a fraud if I changed now. I've had one legendary captain with club and country [Johnson] and I'd have been foolish not to have learned from him, but basically, it's business as usual." Had he received any guidance from his illustrious predecessor? Not exactly. "I've received a text message from Johnno, but you know what he's like," Corry reported with a sorry shake of the head. "It read: 'All the pressure is on you now. England expects'."

Joking aside, Johnson's communication told it as it was. The weight of expectation is considerable, and Corry is indeed under pressure to deliver a performance worthy of a team still ranked in the world's top six. "I'll have a quiet moment to myself in the tunnel before the game, and that will be special," he said. "After that, everything will be focused on us putting things right as a group. We've let ourselves down in this Championship. No one will be shirking his responsibility on Saturday."

The Italians have made five changes, one of them positional, to the side that lost narrowly to the Scots. Gert Peens replaces Roland de Marigny at full-back, Kaine Robertson starts on the right wing with Mirco Bergamasco shifting to centre, Salvatore Perugini takes over at tight-head prop from Martin Castrogiovanni and Carlo Antonio Dal Fava plays at lock ahead of Santiago Dellape.

SIX NATIONS' TEAMS

ITALY (v England, Twickenham, Saturday, KO 16.00): G Peens (L'Aquila); K Robertson (Viadana), M Bergamasco (Stade Français), A Masi (Viadana), L Nitoglia (Calvisano); L Orquera (Padova), A Troncon (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (L'Aquila), F Ongaro (Treviso), S Perugini (Calvisano), CA Del Fava (Rugby Parma), M Bortolami (Narbonne, capt), A Persico (Agen), D dal Maso (Treviso), S Parisse (Treviso). Replacements: G Intoppa (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Calvisano), M Savi (Viadana), S Dellape (Agen), S Orlando (Treviso), P Griffen (Calvisano), M Barbini (Padova).

WALES (v Scotland, Murrayfield, Sunday, 15.00): K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons); R Williams (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff), G Hanson (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Llanelli); G Jenkins (Cardiff), M Davies (Gloucester), A Jones, B Cockbain (both Ospreys), R Sidoli (Cardiff), R Jones (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff), M Owen (Dragons, capt). Replacements: R McBryde (Llanelli Scarlets), J Yapp (Cardiff), J Thomas (Ospreys), R Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff), M Phillips (Scarlets), C Sweeney (Dragons), H Luscombe (Dragons).

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