Second Division clubs split from NCA

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England's Second Division clubs yesterday resigned en masse from the already emasculated National Clubs' Association, and in a move that may have profound significance threw in their lot with the First Division clubs, writes Steve Bale.

At a stroke they thereby created a still more powerful bloc within - or against, depending on how you view it - the Rugby Football Union as clubs and union confront each other about how the club game, which goes professional in just six weeks' time, is to be financed.

A meeting between the parties in London on Thursday, billed as the most important in this increasingly problematic process, reached no agreement other than to meet again next week. Such fundamental issues as contracts and broadcasting revenue still remain to be settled with the last resort being a breakaway, now involving the leading 20 clubs, from the RFU.

What with the mass of the RFU's membership exceeding 2,000 having their say at tomorrow's special general meeting in Birmingham, the forces of disunion in English rugby appear to be in the ascendant at a time when Cliff Brittle, the grass-roots candidate who won the RFU executive chairmanship at the last, aborted SGM in January, has this very week publicly appealed for unity.

The NCA, which formerly had an important role in administering the Courage Championship while acting as a forum for the top 40 clubs, had already been rendered worthless by the resignation before Christmas of the First Division clubs, whose bargaining-power is now more powerful than ever.

The Second Division clubs made their decision at a meeting at Moseley on Tuesday but agreed to defer any announcement until after Thursday's meeting with the RFU. They will now form their own organisation, parallel with the First Division's, and have a minority stake - two votes between them, to be cast by Sir John Hall of Newcastle and Steve O'Neill of Bedford, compared with the 10 First Division clubs' one each - in English Professional Clubs Ltd, the company formed to negotiate with broadcasters and sponsors.

Bristol, yesterday appointed the former England lock Mike Davis, best remembered as the 1980 Grand Slam coach, as assistant coach under the club's new coach and player-development director, Alan Davies, himself a former national coach with Wales.