RFU close net on tickets that get away

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The RFU's crackdown on the black market, which began with the England-Ireland match two weeks ago, has resulted in a task force investigating 140 cases of tickets falling into the "wrong hands''. The figure could rise significantly after yesterday's match with Wales.

Last week a policy of naming and shaming people who distributed tickets to unauthorised dealers embarrassed England and undermined their whiter than white reputation for honest endeavour when three players were implicated. Ben Cohen was disciplined after one of his allocated tickets was resold on the black market and two other members of the squad, Olly Barkley and Matt Stevens, were said by Sir Clive Woodward to have made similar "errors of judgement".

"We set high standards in everything we do,'' Woodward said. "These players have not been touting but they are responsible for where their tickets go and some of them have been found where they shouldn't have been found. If it happens again the consequences would be very serious.''

A ticket was sold by Cohen via a third party to an unofficial agency. "The person who paid a fortune for the ticket watched the England-Ireland match and then gave the ticket to the RFU,'' Paul Vaughan the union's commercial director said. "We were able to trace it to source.'' The RFU wrote to Cohen telling him his allocation had been suspended for the rest of the season, ie three matches, England-Wales, France-England next week and England against the Barbarians on 30 May.

"I made a genuine mistake and it's one I regret,'' Cohen said. Each player receives three complimentary tickets and the right to buy a further 10. The allocation was improved a few years ago when the England players threatened to go on strike. Victor Ubogu, the former Bath and England prop who was linked to the Bath players Barkley and Stevens, said:"I didn't buy any tickets from Olly although Matt did me a favour and helped me out. Nobody has done anything illegal. The whole issue is a minefield.''

Last year up to 12,000 Twickenham tickets were sold on the black market, generating profits of around £8.5m. The RFU's response was to award three companies, from 52 applicants, licences at a cost of £200,000 to provide official corporate hospitality. Clubs are allowed to sell £50 tickets to the licensees for £150 and they are resold as part of a package for up to £1,295.

"I have just started a corporate hospitality business,'' Ubogu said, "and I'm told I can't sell a ticket above face value although the clubs can. To buy into official hospitality I'd lose money. I don't think the RFU can operate a cartel and prevent companies from trading.''