RFU denies central contracts deal

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Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union, last night dismissed reports that England players are to be centrally contracted to Twickenham.

The reports suggested that the careers of England's leading players would be handled by Engand's head coach, Brian Ashton.

Thomas said: "You cannot describe what both sides have been discussing as central contracts. What we want is central management of players.

"But there will be no contracts between the RFU and the players. What we have actually said is that we could work with a 32-man elite player squad, a 32-man Saxons or England A squad and a 32-man Under-20 squad. It won't be contractual, in that we will be signing the players up.

"The idea is that the Premiership will cede the management of those 32 senior players to Rob Andrew and Brian Ashton. We would have the total management of the players in that senior squad. We would want a relatively small input into the Saxons squad. And we want to have an input in the Under-20 squad to ensure that that very critical group of players is looked after and gets the rugby it needs at the right level - that is to say meaningful matches at Premiership or A League level, or with First Division clubs, to ensure that it comes through to funnel the supply of senior England players. Nothing has been finalised."

Thomas could not say when the new system would be implemented.

"All parties would like to get a deal done as quickly as possible, but there are issues Premier Rugby will have to deal with, there are issues we the RFU will have to deal with. Ideally, though, we would like it in place in time for the start of next season. That would give us a full four-year run-in to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It is certainly feasible, but whether that is achieved I'm not sure. But it will be done as quickly as we can humanly do it."

There will be a further meeting today to iron out a few more issues so that Premier Rugby, which represents the 12 Premiership clubs, can present the proposal at a meeting of owners and chairmen on Thursday.