RFU widens payments battle to all top clubs

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The Independent Online

It has emerged that the Rugby Football Union has extended its campaign of confrontation to include all the Premiership clubs.

Not content with holding back Lions payments to three clubs - Wasps, Sale and Saracens - Twickenham is now overdue on the first tranche of compensation payments to clubs with players in the élite squad.

Under the long form agreement, Premier Rugby and the RFU agreed to pay £30,000 per player, per club, per annum, the grant to be in two payments.

The first payment is now between three and four weeks overdue and, according to club sources, the RFU has said the money has been paid into a separate account and will be held there until the present dispute over player release is resolved.

Mark Sinderberry, the chief executive of Saracens, said yesterday: "The withholding of the money is frustrating, but all these issues are merely by-products of the real problem. And that is the lack of a structured season. Clubs are having to play important games when there are Tests being staged. The structure of the season is the real challenge facing us."

The former All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall has a different challenge to confront when Tykes take on Worcester in the Premiership tomorrow. Marshall has been handed the captaincy because Iain Balshaw and Stuart Hooper are both injured.

The Tykes prop Mike Shelley is to undergo an MRI scan on a leg injury. It was at first feared he had a fractured fibula, but the X-rays were inconclusive.

Malcolm O'Kelly, the British and Irish Lions second row is expected to make his first appearance of the season when Leinster take on Cardiff on Saturday. The lock is likely to be on the bench for the Celtic League match in Dublin.

The England head coach Andy Robinson has paid tribute to Phil Greening, who announced his retirement from professional rugby yesterday. The 30-year-old Wasps hooker, who won 24 England caps, suffered a foot injury in the Premiership final at Twickenham last May and a subsequent operation has failed to cure the problem.

Robinson said: "Phil has given great service to England. His talent and enthusiasm always made him exciting to watch. It is a blow for him, London Wasps and England that his career has been cut short."

Tom Shanklin, the Wales back, has a swollen knee and not only misses the Leinster match but is a doubt for the start of Cardiff's Heineken Cup campaign next week.

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