South Africans backingPacker

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Most of South Africa's provincial players yesterday joined together to back Kerry Packer's breakaway World Rugby Corporation (WRC).

They formed a players' association after a meeting of representatives of five provinces and in a statement said: "With the exception of certain individuals, the top 30 players of each province have signed contracts with WRC and hope that the unions will support this."

The South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) bitterly accused the WRC on Saturday of sowing "confusion, suspicion and uncertainty" in the country's rugby.

The attack came a day after a South African judge said a court application by the WRC over players' professional contracts was not urgent and told them to re-apply later.

Sarfu said last week that 28 players of their victorious World Cup squad had agreed to sign contracts with them, backing Packer's rival, Rupert Murdoch, and his $550m (pounds 360m) television deal involving South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The provincial group's lawyer, Jasper Raats, said the only union not represented was Transvaal, because "they do not have the same concern as the rest of the players have".

Raats said: "The players' association will evolve into a players' union to deal with all matters concerning players' interests. This was done to enable them to speak as a unified body to address pressing issues and to ensure that decisions that affect players are made with players' participation.

"The players hope that this unified body will make an end to the lack of communication between players and administrators.''

Ross Turnbull, the WRC director, expressing delight at the provincial players' statement, said: "We've always said that WRC's vision is to transform rugby by taking it into a new and exciting era and the South African players have taken a giant step in achieving this goal."

Meanwhile, the All Blacks were offered contracts to stay with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and not join the WRC at a meeting yesterday.

Sean Fitpatrick, the All Black captain and spokesman, said that the team would consider the contracts over the next week.

Fitzpatrick said it was up to each individual as to which camp he signed with, but there was a strong feeling the team should stay together.

The NZRFU contracts are worth NZ$250,000 (pounds 80,000) a year for three years. The NZRFU said last week around 50 players, mostly top provincial players, had signed with the union. The WRC is believed to be offering players contracts worth NZ$350,000 a year.

Most of the squad who finished runners-up in the World Cup earlier this year were present at the meeting. The most notable absentee was the much- coveted winger Jonah Lomu, who has been on holiday in South Africa.

In Australia the Australian Rugby Football Union and WRC officials will suspend their efforts to sign players to contracts until at least the middle of next week while the players consider their options.

In the meantime, a seven-man player committee will meet representatives from both groups in the hope of reaching a compromise in the bitter power struggle.

The leading Wallabies are expected to meet on 23 August to vote as a group on whether to defect to the rebel WRC or remain loyal to the ARFU.

The Australian captain, Phil Kearns, has emerged as the most vocal advocate within Wallaby ranks for WRC's plans to overhaul the game by creating a worldwide professional structure at provincial and Test level.

More than 50 Australian players last week failed to reach a consensus on which group to support after a five-hour meeting in Sydney.