RFU approves eight-year deal with clubs

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The Independent Online

A first major step on the road to unification between the Premiership and First Division clubs and the Rugby Football Union, was made without too much trouble yesterday and within a week all parties may well be sipping celebratory champagne.

The RFU Management Board has unanimously approved an eight-year agreement between the RFU, the Premiership Clubs and Premier Rugby Partnership. The deal has also been approved by Premier Rugby's representatives in the negotiations. All that now remains is for the details to be put to each of the clubs next Tuesday for ratification and then to be presented to the RFU Council when it meets on Friday.

If the agreement gets the general thumbs-up, the clubs will be paid the balance of the monies owed to them by the RFU.

It means there will be one-up, one-down promotion for the next two seasons, followed by a review of the structure of the top two divisions. There is speculation that, following the review, there could be a move to two conferences of eight teams with a rugby league-style grand play-off. The involvement of 16 teams in the top flight, as opposed to the present 12, suggests there might be room for a couple of rugby league clubs to enter a union team each.

Significantly Graeme Cattermole, the newly-elected chairman of the Management Board, is in favour. "I said at my election that an agreement with the clubs was at the top of the agenda and I'm delighted the Management Board unanimously approved it yesterday," he said.

Francis Baron, the RFU chief executive added: "While the RFU remains as the governing body for the entire game, the agreement creates a new joint venture company, 'England Rugby', for the management of the professional game in this country. The RFU and Premier Rugby are in joint negotiations for the future broadcasting rights for English rugby and this agreement will hopefully enable a successful conclusion to these discussions."