'Problem areas' affect Weston Plan

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The Independent Online

The prospect of England's top clubs and the Rugby Football Union reaching agreement on the running of the professional clubs and the representative games looks as remote as ever.

Despite the RFU chief executive, Francis Baron, making mollifying noises over Premier Rugby Limited's Weston Plan - Twickenham found itself in agreement on three principles and is prepared to discuss four further points - he sees a raft of what were termed "problem areas".

Baron, though, is eager to get around the negotiating table. "Let's discuss the things we agree on and get some quick wins under our belt, that will help with progress in the rest of the discussions."

But if agreement on such items as England player release days, a structured season and no playing of Test players in so-called fallow weeks during the Six Nations is reached, Baron wants those decisions to be binding on both sides and not to be made conditional on the remainder of the Weston Plan.

But last night PRL, which represents the top 12 clubs in England, expressed disappointment at the way the Weston Plan has been received by the RFU management board.

"You can't just cherry-pick the items you like and kick everything else into the long grass," said Mark McCafferty, the PRL chief executive. "When we come round the table to negotiate we have to go straight to the trickier issues."

At least Twickenham is prepared to give ground on the touchy subject of compensating clubs who lose players to England and have to recruit replacements.

"Let's get it costed and work out how many additional players the clubs might need and we will accept the responsibility of meeting those additional costs," Baron said.

The RFU is also happy with the number of release days, 16, for England players. "There is a way forward on this," said Baron. "We are not arguing about the number of release days."

The London Irish scrum-half Paul Hodgson has been appointed as captain of England Saxons when they begin their defence of the Churchill Cup against Scotland on Saturday.

Head coach Jon Callard said: "He is coming off the back of a good season, his confidence is high and it's right that we should utilise that enthusiasm. It was always the intention to have match-day captains as well as a tour captain [David Barnes]."