Warning from English clubs

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The Independent Online
Twickenham has received support from an unexpected quarter in the Five Nations' debate. The English Professional Rugby Union Clubs met at Heathrow yesterday and fired a warning shot across the bows of the other home unions. If England are kicked out of the Five Nations' Championship there is a veiled threat of players from the other home unions being withheld for the alternative Four Nations' tournament.

The RFU president, John Richardson, and Cliff Brittle, chairman of the RFU executive, were sent back from a summit meeting of the four home unions to London last week and told to come up with alternative proposals vis- a-vis the broadcasting deal for the Five Nations. The RFU has agreed an exclusive deal with BSkyB worth pounds 87.5m.

There are fears, particularly among the senior clubs, who are now committed to multi-million pound wage bills as the first professional season looms into view next month, that Twickenham will be forced to accede to the other countries' wishes. A source at Epruc confirmed last night that the release of players to the other three home unions is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Meanwhile, Donald Kerr, the chairman of Epruc, said last night that the clubs were very close to to a full agreement with England over the administration of the game at their level. "The meeting went very well," said Kerr, "it has come down to the small print."

The clubs had negotiated their own sponsorship deal and persuaded Courage to focus their finances on Divisions Three and Four. The RFU has blocked that, but Kerr is optimistic that the wrangle can be sorted out.