RFU creates negotiating team to resolve club v country dilemma

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In England, the Rugby Football Union tore up the 2001 Long Form Agreement accusing clubs of "repudiating" a variation of it concerning élite players in June 2004.

In South Africa the ruling body, SA Rugby, is reported to be trying to reduce the number of centrally contracted players from 36 to 24, but after speaking to eight Springboks all the players threatened to boycott the national awards ceremony demanding that the process be reviewed. While the Springbok captain, John Smit, played down the row, back home the situation looks more serious.

Last night Premier Rugby, who were signatories to the LFA, a blueprint document between Twickenham and the clubs on how professional English rugby should be organised, were, initially at least, making pacifying noises and saying there was no immediate threat to the Six Nations.

But a spokesman said that they were taking legal advice as to whether the LFA could be terminated unilaterally, or whether it was still a legally binding agreement and he insisted that they would seek talks as a matter of urgency.

PRL maintained that there was no immediate threat of players being withheld from England although the possibility remains real if things do not get sorted out soon. The autumn series against Australia, New Zealand and Samoa will be unaffected, but there has to be a greyish cloud over the Six Nations right now.

In order to try to resolve the clubs v country differences the RFU yesterday announced the creation of an eight-man negotiating team, including the England head coach, Andy Robinson. The team will be headed by Martyn Thomas, chairman of the RFU management board, and includes the RFU chief executive Francis Baron, the RFU performance director Chris Spice, the Twickenham finance director Nick Eastwood, as well as Bill Beaumont, John Spencer and Jonathan Dance.

Thomas explained: "The group we have put together has the skills to cover all aspects of the élite game. We have chosen eight people to ensure that we have cover for any unavailabilities for short notice meetings."

PRL's negotiating team will be invited to make a presentation at the next scheduled RFU management board meeting, an offer made on the basis that PRL will reciprocate with an invitation for RFU negotiators to present to the PRL board and club owners.

The Premiership's bottom club, Leeds, are looking for a new head coach after it was announced yesterday that the director of rugby, Phil Davies, is relinquishing all responsibilities for the first team.