Sir: Well done the RFU! After Cliff Brittle's appointment in January and a period for fact-finding, consultation and negotiation, it was right to "draw a line in the sand". Rugby union is living in difficult and dangerous times and Steve Bale tells us a sorry tale of strident arrogance, personal vilification and greed by the "top clubs". The self-interested blusterings of Sir John Hall and EPRUC [English Professional Rugby Union Clubs] do not seem to me to be the best way forward for the wider game. Their demands that the RFU must "surrender" reminds me of a mob ranting "Wadder we want? Money! When do we want it? Now!". That may be intimidating, but that does not make it right.
Fortunately our game is more cerebral than soccer and I for one have every hope for the future.
The RFU has to service the needs of all clubs both great and small. In particular, in the face of the collapse of rugby coaching in state schools, we need the excellent but expensive new RFU structure of youth development officers, coaching and refereeing courses and all the necessary infrastructure and "admin" that goes into maintaining an on-going wide base of available and improving players. The RFU must continue to train our youth, and we recruit from them, or we die. Expensive imported talent may sparkle briefly, but English rugby lives off it at its peril.
The irresponsible demands which are being bandied about for each "top" club to be given pounds 1m are unrealistic and do not match the "product". Bath and Quins (and even Leicester) may be giving spectators value for money but the more typical unedifying error-bestrewn Easter fare served up in the Gloucester v Bristol game was made only marginally interesting by the relegation battle and a fluctuating scoreline. Poor handling and individual skills among the majority of EPRUC members do not warrant inflated player payments as yet - certainly not to the detriment of support of the wider game.
I very much hope Sir John and his EPRUC cohorts now admit they have tried but failed, and now agree to go along with the RFU and the wishes of the vast army of rugby union supporters who voted overwhelmingly for a "seamless" structure.
From Mr R Dickson
Sir: I am one of those beleaguered folk who stand on the terraces of rugby grounds on most Saturdays during the winter to support their chosen rugby club.
In many ways I don't care if this dispute is settled or not as I am sure that Bath will continue to play on a Saturday and I will continue to go and support them. However I cannot see anything but disaster for the smaller (amateur) clubs and the RFU unless they very rapidly get their act together.
The RFU and smaller clubs have a great stadium in Twickenham but little else. Who will pay for TV rights or even a match ticket to see an international side made up of players from the Third Division. However crowds will buy tickets and TV companies will fight for the rights to games like Bath or Leicester vs Toulouse. Twickenham may not be available for the venue but Wembley isn't a bad stadium.
Where does this leave the RFU and the smaller clubs? None of the great players, a Third Division international side and a debt on a stadium they couldn't sell tickets for! Who but an idiot could think that they have a good negotiating stance.
Mr R Dickson
From N Parry and P Irvine
Sir: It appears to two rugby enthusiasts that it is the RFU's view that they alone should control the organisation and money flows of the new professional rugby game in England. It now appears that they also wish to have a significant influence on matters in the other Home Unions.
We wonder whether the RFU would alter their view if the professional organisation covering the First and Second Division clubs approached the other Home Unions and suggested they could enter an England side into a Five Nations tournament as a replacement for the RFU?
If that happened:
the professional game in England would have a significant revenue source to sustain the game;
the Five Nations tournament would survive without the remaining Home Unions being treated as poor relations;
and the professional game in England would be run by professional businessmen, while the RFU could run the amateur game.
It would also serve to show the RFU that although the top echelon of the game has changed the vast majority has not. The vast majority still believes rugby union is more than just a money making machine for the few.
N Parry and P Irvine
From Mr A Barr
Sir: Look on the bright side. At least England's rugby union administrators make their cricketing counterparts look competent.
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