Unions closer to excluding English

Rugby Union
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Relations between English rugby's governing body and the rest of the home unions yesterday moved a step nearer their final breakdown when the Rugby Football Union rejected a plea from the Five Nations' committee to return to a unified approach to television-contract negotiations.

Instead, the RFU will press on with making its own, separate TV deal for matches at Twickenham. BSkyB's intervention last month - when it hoped its individual offers to each union would get the English off the hook - has plainly failed.

The logical conclusion of this acrimonious stand-off is that when the Five Nations contract concludes at the end of next season, Wales, Scotland and France will refuse to play England, whose players might then set themselves up as an alternative England to play in the championship.

Yesterday, however, an RFU spokesman insisted: "There is no change in our attitude." And Bob Weighill, the Five Nations secretary, admitted: "The conflict is no nearer a resolution."

After the latest Five Nations meeting Fred McLeod, the Scottish RU's senior vice-president, said the RFU committee will again be asked to reconsider its decision to negotiate separately. "A core principle is at stake: that the rights to the Five Nations' Championship cannot reside with any one country and that it is for the FNC to negotiate and sell broadcasting rights."

The Welsh RU have offered their leading clubs a package worth almost pounds 3m to prevent a breakaway along the lines also threatened by the major English clubs from their union. It has set Saturday as a deadline for the clubs to respond.