Rugby's brave decision that changes very little

Tony Underwood believes the new rules in a new era must safeguard the clubs as much as the England squad
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The Independent Online
The International Board's decision to do away with the principles of amateurism was expected, but what was not was the whole-hearted adoption of professionalism, everything from transfers to win bonuses. This decision was in fact made after certain unions came clean about what was going on already. Members gathered in Paris ready to embrace all the nuances each union had adopted but probably had not realised how big the umbrella was going to be.

This was a brave decision and the only way that the Board would be able to regain control of the game, cornered as they were into making such a reactionary move. My only question is did they really have to go quite so far? By adopting a loose, permissive role on this issue the IB has regained control only to pass it on to the unions, allowing them to develop their own rules for professionalism. In effect, nothing has changed.

We now have a clean slate - which is just what we felt we needed. The challenge now is to find a solution that befits the playing environment in England. A group of us from the national squad sat down together earlier this week to do just that. As has been made clear in the past, the southern hemisphere are already well down the road, having the right domestic structure to their game and hence an appealing product with which they have attracted significant corporate and media moneys.

This is not the case here and, as has been highlighted by the Scottish and Irish unions, there just is not enough money in the northern hemisphere to even begin to rival the sort of packages on offer to the southern hemisphere players.

As players we realise the money just is not around in club rugby to allow payments to club players. Therefore, under discussion was which of the various different schemes might best introduce European competition. There are guaranteed backers for these schemes and in turn the standard of rugby should be such that the game could take advantage of its current high profile to generate even more interest than the Rugby World Cup provided. Paramount throughout all the talking was the need to take into account the well-being not just of the England team but also the clubs we represent.

This is the dilemma and heartache we face as forebears of this new era in rugby. We will not be able to come to a decision that will please everyone, just as long as they realise we will do so with all the best intentions for club and country. Expect our suggestion to the RFU within the fortnight.

When I set out on my rugby career at school some 15 years ago, I certainly did not expect to see rugby being just that, a career. Will this change the spirit of the game? Unquestionably, but I feel only at the top end and, besides, it already has done even before the advent of professionalism.

Single-mindedness is already prevalent in the national squad and gone is the Corinthian attitude that losing is okay, it's the taking part that counts. Winning is what we're there to accomplish. All good professional ethics. There will obviously be a few things to come to terms with such as not being able to miss any training sessions due to the fact that you do not want to miss the latest episode of Coronation Street but by and large this is something most of us have grown to live with in the last few years.

Where it will come as a greater shock will be at the next level down in the First Division, should club contracts become a reality. Below this there is no reason why rugby cannot continue as it does and here the spirit of the game played for fun and enjoyment can be unashamedly maintained.

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