A football-style transfer system, with fees being paid for players, is inevitable in rugby union, according to an Independent survey of the leading clubs.
The survey (see page 30) also revealed that seven out of the 10 First Division clubs in the Courage League could conceive of a situation in which the leading clubs would break away from the Rugby Football Union, and that a majority of clubs felt the game should have gone fully professional immediately, rather than wait until next season.
Opinion on the 120-day rule was divided, with half of those questioned hoping it would be abolished, two saying it should be reduced, two saying it should be increased and one hoping it would be retained.
Criticism of the RFU's handling of the move to professionalism was strong, with seven clubs finding fault with some aspect of it.
However, the greatest degree of unanimity came on the question of transfers, an issue that goes to the heart of the sport since it abandoned its amateur ethos in August.
"I think it is inevitable," Tony Russ, the director of rugby at Leicester, said. "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."
John Quin, the Bath club secretary, said that if clubs 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."
Dick Best, the Harlequins director of rugby, advocated the introduction of a 15 per cent sell-on fee, to ensure that clubs benefit from any future transfers a player may be involved in. "I think we have to learn from the valuable lessons that soccer gives us and if you buy a player from a Third Division club, the club must be reimbursed," he said.
Jeff Probyn, Wasps' chairman of rugby, called for some restriction on the movement of players. "Once a player has played for one club, he cannot play for another that season - like a season's embargo."
A plea on behalf of the First Division's smaller clubs was made by Dave Taylor, a director of Bristol. "I think that we want to try - as no sport has got it right yet - to devise a system where the fees are limited, so the smaller clubs are not cut out of the market."
The issue of transfers and transfer fees has already been discussed by a group of First Division club representatives, set up in response to disquiet over the way the First Division had been excluded from RFU discussions. In a series of recent briefings, the "conference" invited speakers from the football world to explain and discuss their transfer system.
The clubs, however, will have to wait for an official stance on fees from the RFU until its commission delivers a verdict, due next week. "Transfer fees and the 120-day rule are being considered by the RFU's commission, and so the RFU would not discuss the matter until the commission has concluded its discussions," a spokeswoman said yesterday.
State of the union, the full survey, page 30Reuse content