Training is more rigorous, but it should be possible for De Glanville to captain Bath, play for England and keep his day job

ALAN WATKINS on rugby
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The Independent Online
The conflict between the Rugby Football Union and the professional clubs is one in which onlookers seem to feel the need to take sides. It is almost like a matrimonial break-up, where the couple's friends take the part of one spouse or the other; often, in so doing, bringing about quarrels in their own marriages because husband and wife cannot agree whose side to take in somebody else's troubles.

I feel under no such obligation in the dispute between the RFU and the clubs. This does not prevent me from holding strong views. Thus, on the one hand, I think the structure proposed by the RFU crazy. I am with the union only on promotion and relegation this season, hard though this may be for some clubs. But its attachment to the divisional and county championships is beyond my comprehension.

Even sillier is the proposal for an Anglo-Welsh league for the lower clubs in the respective first divisions. For what the ordinary English or Welsh follower wants is to see Bath, Harlequins, Leicester and Wasps playing Cardiff, Llanelli, Neath and Swansea regularly - though one or two of these clubs might of course have to drop out, according to national league tables, to make way for, say, Pontypridd or Sale.

On the other hand, the newly professional clubs are equally foolish to believe that rugby can or should support a fully professional structure, in the sense that every player in the First and Second Divisions - or even in the First Division alone - takes home a living wage at the end of the week. Cricket has been nearly ruined in this country by building a professional structure on a base which cannot honestly support it.

There is no need whatever for rugby to go down this particular path; not least because a game lasts for 80 minutes rather than for three or four days. Though training is more rigorous than it used to be, and higher standards of strength, speed and stamina are required, it should still be possible for Phil de Glanville to captain Bath, play for England and keep his day job. I can understand why Dean Richards is taking a temporary rest from his traffic duties. But I hope Tony Underwood has not made a mistake in relinquishing his financial career to take Sir John Hall's shilling.

Instead of going on about these matters, I should have liked to devote the whole column to dishing out end-of-season awards of one kind or another. In the space remaining, here are a few. Team of the season: Northampton. Runners-up: Bath.

Once again, Bath supporters may think I have been less than generous to their club, but they were starting from a position of strength and carried on from there, playing some highly accomplished rugby in the course of their journey - though Saracens, the unluckiest side in the First Division, would have beaten them at Southgate if they had possessed even a half- way decent kicker.

Mike Catt deserves a mention for recovering from the nearly disastrous start he made for England against South Africa at outside-half. He then switched to full-back but, in the last couple of months, has proved himself to be, by a long way, the best outside-half in England, outclassing Paul Grayson of Northampton - (even though the two have not, as far as I know, been directly opposed to each other).

However, it is Grayson's club who win the team of the season award. It took a lot of character to recover from relegation by playing rugby that was not only successful but attractive as well. Ian McGeechan gets the coaches' award too, with the runner-up Dick Best, for implanting some backbone into his gifted though often wayward charges.

The player of the season is Rob Wainwright, with Robert Howley as runner- up, of whom Welsh supporters have been asking: "Why hasn't he been in the side for the last five years?" Props rarely win awards, but there are special mentions for Darren Garforth, who ought to have been in the England team, and Gary Halpin, who did not want to be in the Irish side. There are special mentions also for Will Carling, who had his best season for years in difficult personal circumstances, and for Gregor Townsend, who might or might not have scored for Scotland against England if he had simply carried on running.

There were several promising newcomers in addition to Howley: notably Lawrence Dallaglio (if, that is, you count him as a newcomer), Leigh Davies, Gwyn Jones, Simon Mason and Jon Sleightholme.

I am giving the award to Mason, who came from nowhere to end up as the most solid-looking full-back in the Five Nations, almost like a full-back from an earlier era. The others all share the runner-up award, which I hope sends them away happy after what has not been the happiest of seasons for rugby in the British Isles.

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