Turnbull tries to turn screw on Union

Rugby round-up
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The Independent Online
THE RUGBY Football Union is resigned to losing many of its leading players to the Australian entrepreneur Ross Turnbull if his second attempt to take over the game in Europe succeeds.

Turnbull is planning a city-based summer tournament, involving up to 300 players from the countries which compete in the Five Nations' Championship plus Italy, at a possible cost of pounds 50m.

Last summer he attempted to launch a pounds 100m event, but that venture, which was supposed to be televised on a channel owned by the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer, was torpedoed when the game turned professional and the laws were changed to allow players to be paid.

This time, though, officialdom has no more concessions to make. The RFU president, Bill Bishop, said: "I don't know what more we can do for the players in England. We have not got any more money to fight these sort of offers."

Around 100 English players are each being offered pounds 200,000 per year. Adding on fees for players from other European countries, plus the cost of paying managers, coaches and referees, and the outlay on travelling and ground improvements, the total could exceed pounds 50m. If these sums do materialise, they will dwarf the England players' projected earnings of pounds 38,000 for an ever-present international season.

Will Carling, the England captain who came through his first proper training session yesterday after being concussed last month during the defeat by South Africa, has refused to have anything to do with the project. But Turnbull believes he will sign up 19 players from Courage champions Leicester alone, and his offer might appeal to players in their thirties whose international careers appear to be over. But Dean Richards, the former England No 8, said yesterday: "I have signed nothing." Leicester, are doing their best to keep their key personnel happy and yesterday they unveiled their latest commercial deal, with British Car Contracts and Rover for 20 sponsored vehicles for players and officials.

In Wales, Neath moved into second place in the First Division with a 76-29 hammering of Ebbw Vale which beat their previous best Heineken League victory of 71-10 over Pontypool in 1993. The home side secured maximum bonus points and scored seven tries in the first half alone, but Ebbw Vale battled back after the interval with four tries of their own.

Newport clawed their way back to within two points of visitors Newbridge in injury time, but then conceded a fourth try, by the scrum-half Richard Smith, to lose 20-13 - their second successive defeat. The fly-half Matthew Lewis kicked an injury-time penalty to earn Bridgend a 19-16 win over Aberavon, but for Llanelli there was frustration of a different kind. Maximum bonus points yesterday would have taken them to the top of the table above Cardiff and Pontypridd, who meet today at Sardis Road, but their visit to Abertillery, the bottom club, had to be postponed because of a frozen pitch.