Tom vows to resist 'destructive' RFU

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The Independent Online

Peace in our time? Not by a long chalk, judging by the comments of the Leicester chairman, Peter Tom, at the club's annual general meeting. Tom fairly tore into the Rugby Football Union on the thorny issues of franchises and central contracts, underlining his organisation's opposition to both and the determination of the Tigers' board to resist any move to cut the ground from beneath the feet of the professional clubs.

"Last season, 22 Leicester players represented England at senior, age-group and seven-a-side levels," Tom told shareholders in reporting the Midlanders' record figures of £15.1m turnover and £1.1m profit. "While we are all very proud to see Tigers players in England shirts, it does create serious selection problems. This season, we will be without our England internationals for seven of our 22 league games, putting at risk up to 35 points. And if the RFU has its way, clubs could lose their players for longer periods.

"The development of professional club rugby is one of this country's success stories. The quality of rugby is improving each season and not only is this good news for the clubs and their supporters, it should also be welcomed by the union. Over the past 10 years, clubs and their owners have invested upwards of £100m and we will not stand by and allow the RFU to destroy all we have achieved in creating the most exciting and valuable club rugby competition in the world.

"The union has constantly sought to gain control over our players and dictate policy to the clubs. At the heart of the matter is their clear objective to create franchises they would control and, through them, to centrally contract players, deciding when, where and who plays in a franchise team."

Meanwhile, South Africa's approach to next year's Super 14 competition remains clouded in uncertainty. The Southern Spears, a new franchise based in the South-Eastern Cape, are determined to take their place in the tournament, despite the view of the South African Rugby Union that they are not yet ready to participate at such an advanced level of the game. The issue will be decided in court, probably some time next month.

When the Super 14 authorities released the 2007 fixture list yesterday, only four South African teams were identified. The name of the fifth was left blank.