RFU offers financial carrot in move to get leading clubs onside

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The Independent Online

The great and good of Twickenham were realistic about one thing, though: none of this will be achieved without the aid of the Premiership clubs. Hence the importance of next Wednesday's meeting of the RFU's management board, which will feature the running sore currently infecting the game in England - the refusal of some heavyweight teams, notably Leicester and Sale, to rest leading international players under the 11-week agreement designed to guarantee sufficient recovery periods for those most crucial to Test success.

Some board members will call for the miscreants to be sanctioned, but the RFU executive, aware that the sides most implicated are among the most successful in producing young English talent, are likely to box clever rather than box Premiership owners and coaches around the ears.

Francis Baron, the union's chief executive, and Chris Spice, the performance director, want international players released for the seven-week duration of this season's Six Nations Championship. The union is also pressing for tournament preparation time of at least a week, and preferably a fortnight, before the first match. This is a big ask, removing as it would the leading players from club activity during both the autumn Test and Six Nations windows - around a third of the season.

The carrot? A more flexible approach to player management, leaving the day-to-day decision-making in the hands of Premiership directors of rugby and their medical staffs, and handsome financial incentives for those clubs identifying top-class England-qualified players and developing them to international standard.

"We're not in the business of making idle threats," said Baron. "We understand the pressures on clubs and the need to negotiate a package that works for them as well as us." Spice said: "Funding is on the table. I'm clear about the need to reward clubs who supply the England players. I'm also clear that if we get the kind of agreement we want for the Six Nations, it would be massive for us."

Baron also revealed that the wrangle over dates for England's two-Test visit to Australia next summer is still ongoing - the world champions want matches in early June, the Wallabies would prefer something later - and added that the scheduled pre-World Cup trip to South Africa in 2007 might be threatened unless a slot in May, rather than June, could be agreed.

In Scotland, the Edinburgh coach Frank Hadden has been given charge of the national team up to and including the next World Cup after a confident performance in the caretaker role. The 51-year-old from Dundee took over the reins in the summer after the Scottish Rugby Union called time on the Australian Matt Williams, whose tenure was rather less than an unqualified success.