STATE OF THE UNION

English rugby is in turmoil following the decision to go professional, but not to pay club players until next season. The Independent asked five key questions to representatives of the 10 First Division clubs. Interviews by Liz Searl
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BATH

John Quin, Secretary

BRISTOL

Dave Tyler,

Club director

GLOUCESTER

Mike Coley, Club director

HARLEQUINS

Dick Best,

Director of rugby

LEICESTER

Tony Russ,

Director of rugby

ORRELL

SALE

Paul Turner,

Coach

SARACENS

Mark Evans,

Coach

WASPS

Jeff Probyn,

Chairman of rugby

WEST

HARTLEPOOL

Steve Smith,

Press officer

Should club rugby go professional immediately or wait until the next season?

Immediately. I think the mood is such that it is all gaining momentum and now is the right time.

It should come in concurrently with the internationals being paid.

It should go professional immediately, because you can't put a stop to things that are already happening

It already has, hasn't it? Certainly as far as Newcastle are concerned it seems to have gone professional already. It [the moratorium] is a good thing but they have got a commission of laymen together, who are doing it in their spare time, and they won't have covered anywhere near all the problems. There are a hell of a lot of problems to cover. These men are life's second XV, who don't understand the game, and are trying to make decisions that no-one will have any respect for.

It would be better to wait until next season but I don't think that is possible. I don't think that clubs have had sufficient time to respond to a totally unexpected decision made by the international board. Therefore, by allowing unrestrained professionalism straight away, there is distinct advantage to those clubs with multi-millionaires behind them. Other clubs need more time to reorganise their finances. It is very important that change is properly managed and controlled. At the moment there are no rules no regulations and no guidance. I think in the real world it [going professional] will happen more quickly than that.

Wait until next season.

Immediately. It has gone professional all over the world then you can't stop it in one country.

Immediately.

It's too late it has already gone professional.

It should wait until next season, on the basis that nobody had budgeted for it and could not be expected to find the resources to pay players. It is just the fact that everybody has been caught out by the decision. It is an expensive business preparing budgets for a First Division club - it is like running a company - and you can't automatically pluck money out of thin air to pay people.

Do you think the 120-day rule should be:

a) reduced; b) increased; c) retained; d) abolished?

If you just abolish it it will start a flood away of players, but I am not sure that it [the rule] will last too long. Ideally I would reduce the number of days but keep the rule.

While there is a moratorium it should stay where it is. Once it is off and players have contracts, then it is likely to be deemed a restraint of trade, so it should be very much reduced - there will have to be some period of waiting while paperwork is sorted out.

It should be abolished, because it is a restraint of trade. If we are professional then you can't have a regulation that prohibits free movement.

It should be abolished forthwith. In the rest of the rugby world there is no such thing as registration and the governing body of the game has put it in people's laps. Maybe it could be replaced with something like a transfer cut-off in February.

It is a bit ironic that for years all the clubs higher up the league were picking up players from lower leagues, and now the attention has turned to players in the same league.

I think it should be increased in the short-term. I don't think there should be any player movement for the rest of this season. When we put contracts, our own rules and regulations in place, OK, but until then we have to stop. At the moment everybody has got their price and if the price is right then they will move.

Retained.

I think it should be abolished. I understand the make-up of it initially, but I feel at this moment in time we have just got to take a long look at it and go back, maybe to the system of summer signings that ran before, or even having a one club a season contract.

For British players I think it is illegal, so I don't see how you can retain it if the game goes professional. As part of that we have to set up a system whereby people are contracted. So if you wish to move clubs will be compensated.

There needs to be some restriction on players. I would increase it so that once the player has played for one club he cannot play for another that season - like a season's embargo.

It is a poor rule. I think it needs abolishing but there needs to be some sort of control. I don't see anything wrong in the business of people playing for a club in a season and not being able to transfer until the next season.

Should rugby introduce a kind of transfer fee system that would financially compensate the club which is losing the player?

Definitely. It is a very complex issue. We have got to be able to put some sort of figure on what a player's worth. But if you had a system by which the club received some sort of a transfer fee it would prevent wild bidding and the club would get something back for what they have put into that player - especially the clubs in the lower divisions. We have already had a lot of briefings from soccer on this subject.

I think that is inevitable, but I also think that we want to try - as no sport as got this right yet - to devise a system where the fees are limited so the smaller clubs are not cut out of the market.

Yes. We have been discussing this at the First Division Club Conference. And we believe that there should be some recompense to a club for the loss of a player.

Without a doubt. I think we have to learn from soccer that if you buy a player from a Third Division club, the club must be reimbursed. If I sell a player I would demand a sell-on fee of 15 per cent.

Yes. I think it is inevitable. Clubs who lose players in the middle of contracts have the right to be compensated. Ideally there will be controls, like a transfer cap, to stop prices escalating out of control like football, but our legal team have said this may be illegal. If a player comes to the end of his contract and wants to move then I think it's a different matter, but then that will lead to players wanting short contracts and clubs wanting long contracts - another conflict.

Yes.

Inevitably we will have to. We are following down the road of rugby league and football. Rugby union has got a major problem at the moment in Great Britain in that it has to be seen to be entertaining, otherwise the public won't watch because you won't get the money to pay the players. We are now having to think about marketing the game.

Yes, eventually this will have to come into place.

It is an inevitable consequence of professionalism and contracts. I am not saying that I think this is a positive or a negative thing, I am saying that it is inevitable.

I think it probably will have to in the end. Clearly some clubs with far more resources than others. If I was a I cynic I would say it could lead to clubs being preyed on by others.

How do you judge the RFU's handling of the move to professionalism this season?

a) Handled it well; b) Handled it badly; c) Too early to tell.

We don't have the fifth amendment in this country, do we?! To be fair, since Tony Hallett took the chair things have moved much better. I would like to see what the commission has to say before I decide on my answer to that question. They have certainly put a lot of effort into their work. I'll wait to see what they come up with first.

I think to a large extent we have all been dropped in it by the IRB. It was a surprise to everybody that they should announce that everybody should be paid without announcing where that money would be coming from. I think the RFU made the best of a bad job.

I think circumstances crept up on them and they hadn't a clue what to do. I am critical of how they have done it, and all the moratorium that they imposed has done is allowed the predators from the north to profit from it.

I have one word for you, and that is toilet. What do you find in the toilets that you wipe your backside with? They haven't got a clue. There are so few of them with any commercial knowledge. The people on the commission looking into it have all been out of the game for a long while. I think it is disgraceful that they can put such people on there who have been in institutions all of their lives and who will only make a fudge of it. We need fully paid professional people who have had some knowledge of professional sport and rugby union.

They set up a commission. I think while it has been working there has been a total lack of help and guidance and the help to clubs as to how to handle the situation was not good. The constitution of the committee set up was insulting to First Division clubs - the people on it have not availed themselves to the people who run the clubs. I think they have done the right thing but in the wrong way.

Handled it badly.

In fairness to them, the IRB is the world body that made the announcement on 25 August this year - a decision that shocked a lot of people, but I am sure they must have had some idea. What they have been doing since is stalling, and I do understand that there are quite a few people with their heads screwed on within the number of 57 but they need to give the clubs a say, especially after they have actually asked to do so.

I think that Tony Hallett and others have been placed in an impossible position because of mishandling by the other officials in the past 20 years.

It has been handled with the clubs in mind, but it could have advanced a little bit quicker. I still think they handled it quite well. They imposed the moratorium, which is what the clubs wanted, although the best thing would have been if they had imposed something at an understanding with the clubs, but they failed to impose that.

It is slightly early to tell. I think that they have left themselves open to criticism by not having representation of particular geographical regions and, equally, they have some people on there with no real knowledge of the reality of running a modern club. It is a great mistake not to have more representation from major clubs. When the commission publishes its results it will be easier to judge how successful it has been. However, I think that they have lost the opportunity to talk about it with representatives of certain First Division clubs.

Can you conceive a situation where the leading clubs break away from the RFU?

It is a possibility, but at this stage it is not a probability.

It is conceivable, but highly unlikely. A set up like football's Premier League would be more realistic.

We are not going to break away from the RFU. I can, however, see a situation where we would be in charge of our own destiny, in the distant future, rather like the current Premier League in football - negotiating our own television and sponsorship deals. But I think you will find that the majority of us will want to stay with the RFU.

I can see a situation rather like 100 years ago - we are getting to a stage where the First Division may be forced to break away because of the incompetence of the governing body. That is, unless the game is run by people who are at the top end of it and are aware of the problems we are suffering.

That's a question to which we would be silly to say no, because I can see almost anything happening in the future. I think it is very undesirable and it will only happen if this further disenchantment between clubs and the governing body continues. All it takes is better communication. I don't know anyone who really wants it to happen. The question is rather rhetorical. I could conceive Mrs Thatcher coming back as the next prime minister, but I wouldn't really expect it to happen.

Yes

Breakaway at this moment is a bit strong a word, but you cannot have the tail wagging the dog. The clubs should have more of a say. I do understand it came at a really late time in the summer, but there are other things, like the yellow card system. A lot of these people have been too long out of the game to make these decisions.

Yes, it is possible, but it is unlikely.

No. Because they haven't got the financial resources to do it - even Newcastle. If they did it's unlikely that they could [go after] players in the same way. If it came to straight competition the RFU has got more money than the clubs, and the clubs would also be competing with the Rugby League, too.

Yes. I don't think it is likely to happen, though, because ultimately the senior players, the better players, want to play for England and the RFU has that ultimate sanction. But the RFU has to be far more responsive to clubs' needs and they have, over a period of three to four years, made a number of decisions without consultation. And First Division annoyance is because these things are presented as a fait accompli, and they can no longer go down the line of the Sky TV deal and the introduction of non-English regulations. The competition sub-committee is made up of very poor people.

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