In case anyone had previously doubted the game's professional status they can now rest easy. In the way of all ruling bodies, the Rugby Football Union has decided to gag senior figures within the game, despite an individual's statutory and sovereign right of freedom of speech in this country.
The gears grind slowly at Twickenham so it will not happen straight away, but yesterday it was announced that a "Code of Conduct" is to be drawn up for the way directors of rugby, England players and management represent themselves and the game in the media.
The board of England Rugby has agreed that guidelines should be discussed. Proposals will be tabled at the board's next meeting in January, when a small group, led by Chris Spice, the RFU performance director, reports. Francis Baron, the RFU chief executive, acknowledged: "There have been a number of high profile cases recently relating to comments made by players and management to the media."
One of those was the much publicised criticism of the England coach, Clive Woodward, by Rob Andrew, the Newcastle director of rugby. But there have been comments made about the standard of refereeing by others – Bristol's Dean Ryan was banned for a month and fined £2,000 with costs on top for remarks he made about an official – and columns by Austin Healey and Matt Dawson which attacked the Lions management.
Baron added: "All interested parties, namely senior officials, directors of rugby, England management and players will contribute to the recommendations to ensure that they have everyone's full support. Once the recommendations have been discussed and approved by the board the guidelines will be introduced with immediate effect to the game."
Coinciding with this announcement, the Scotland centre John Leslie, who was born in New Zealand and plays for the English club Northampton, has criticised opponents of Scotland's selection policy in his column in a Midlands local paper. Leslie is angry at the way the so-called "Kilted Kiwis" have come under fire after the Scotland coach, Ian McGeechan, gave the New Zealander Brendan Laney his debut against the All Blacks last weekend, less than a week after the full-back had landed in Britain and before he had played a single match for Edinburgh in the Welsh-Scottish League. Leslie accused people of a "witch-hunt" and said he felt "persecuted", adding: "We do not make the rules and we should be left alone."
The Sale and England flanker Alex Sanderson cannot play against his brother, Pat, after suffering a broken knuckle last weekend against Leeds, an injury which will keep him out of action until the new year. The clubs meet this Saturday at The Stoop in the Premiership, then a fortnight later in the National Cup at Heywood Road.
Another flanker, Edinburgh's Don Mackinnon, who helped Northampton win the Heineken Cup last season, has been forced to retire at the age of 30 after sustaining a serious knee injury.Reuse content