Rugby's old rivals bury the hatchet

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The Independent Online
The gangway opened up between professional rugby union and rugby league will lead to unparalleled - and hitherto unimaginable - co-operation between the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football League to ensure professionals stay exclusively with one or the other for the length of their contracts, writes Steve Bale.

"We are looking for an arrangement with rugby league so that if you have a rugby league contract you can't go and sign a rugby union contract and vice-versa," John Jeavons-Fellows, chairman-elect of the RFU executive, said at Twickenham yesterday.

To this end, discussions have already taken place and Jeavons-Fellows expects a mutually beneficial conclusion. For the past century any such contact, let alone outright co-operation, would have been unthinkable.

The union is already bracing itself for legal action if it carries on with a six-month stand-down for RL professionals coming into rugby union and the 120-day qualification period it imposes on players changing clubs. "I wouldn't want to give the impression we would fall on our sword," Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, said.

Hallett and Bill Bishop, the union's president, had previously indicated they would expect to lose any restraint- of-trade case but, whatever the outcome, recourse to law would suit the union's purpose by simply delaying any conclusion. In the meantime, as Hallett pointed out, there is not yet any trade to restrain and the England players' contracts will still take another three weeks to sort out.

Hallett also renewed doubts about English participation in European club competition - the subject of bitter contention between the RFU and its leading clubs - when he embraced the principle while rejecting anything like the format to be used in this season's prototype event.

Leicester, Bath and others will be unhappy that Hallett would give no guarantees for next season. "Playing in a dark stadium on a cold, wet, windy Wednesday with no crowd support is a possibility with some of these fixtures," he said. He would now like everyone else to fall in line with RFU Euro-plans that have yet to be made public.

n Scotland's International Board representative, Fred McLeod, has called for a qualifying period of four to six months for both overseas and rugby league players wishing to play rugby union in Scotland.