Wheeler fears add up to long division

Robinson heads Down Under to start rebuilding against a backdrop of growing bitterness
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Peter Wheeler had the odd scrap in his days as a formidable hooker for Leicester, England and the British Lions. If anything he is an even more formidable administrator, but now, as part of the negotiating team for Professional Rugby Ltd currently locking horns with the Rugby Football Union, as well as being Tigers' chief executive, he is in the middle of something that threatens to get messier by the week.

PRL presented the RFU last Tuesday with their Weston plan for the future structure of the game, which, among other things, offered the England coach, Andy Robinson, increased player access but, according to the RFU, will cost upwards of £40 million to implement. On Wednesday, the RFU had their say and were immediately accused of "cherry- picking" the best bits by PRL.

The two sides are hoping to set up a meeting this week to sort out at least some of their differences. Both parties agree on one thing - that the success of the England team is vital. They just disagree on how to get from A to B.

Wheeler said: "The comments from the RFU were not encouraging. The Weston plan is something we have spent a long time putting together. We have been through it with the players and other people at the clubs and it comes off the back of the knowledge we have accumulated over a long period of time.

"The RFU are not likely to come up with anything different from what we have described. There are lots of opportunities for the national side in terms of blocking through the Six Nations and release dates, but they are just grabbing anything that's on their agenda and coming out with their own plans.

"The most important thing is the development of the England team and how they become successful, but we have a disagreement about how that is achieved. You cannot have a successful England team in isolation from the structure that feeds it."

Two of the RFU's negotiating team - the chief executive, Francis Baron, and Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the management board - are off on their travels this week to watch various England teams around the world, so the discussions with PRL will be headed by Nick Eastwood, the union's finance director.

One issue they will have to address is how England's training days are structured, because at the moment far too many players turn up battered and bruised at the camp on a Monday and are unable to do any meaningful work. The RFU ideal is to have 16 days in four blocks of four days rather than eight blocks of two, so that Robinson and his new-look coaching team can get some constructive work done.

"They [PRL] are talking about blocking off the two fallow weekends in the Six Nations and that's great. No problem," says Thomas. "The number of élite player release days is 16, no problem there either - we can tick that box. But the Premiership standard has gone up and so has the number of collisions and impacts in the Premiership compared to 2001.

"Premiership teams play on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays, and it is a waste of time if half the players don't turn up, and that means we leave the international side with inadequate time. Four blocks of four would halve the disruption to directors of rugby. If the first day has to be Monday then we could go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday - that would at least give Andy Robinson some meaningful time. We have got to work with the clubs, because their directors of rugby get sacked if they are in the relegation zone."

England have 16 matches between now and the World Cup in France next autumn, where success would unquestionably help both protagonists."If England can achieve something in this next World Cup, then the spin-offs would be tremendous," adds Thomas. "That would impact on PRL the following season, and we have both got to have an interest in that."

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