Wheeler calls for clubs to stand firm

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The Leicester chief executive, Peter Wheeler, an influential figure in the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs' camp, has called for clubs to stand firm as the two negotiating teams prepare to get round the table on Tuesday.

"The Rugby Union have tried to drive a wedge between clubs but if everybody holds firm, I am sure we'll get the right result," he said. "Our agenda is to stay within the union but with certain areas of control within agreed parameters."

Epruc set Friday as the point of no-return, but Wheeler denied the threatened break would occur immediately if talks fail. "The deadline was for clubs to be in a position to withdraw if it was necessary at that time," he explained. "There is no doubt the vast number of clubs want to stay in the union but we have to have the resolve to go it alone if the Rugby Union don't move enough."

The massive Sky TV deal for an expanded European competition could bring the parties together. Epruc, responsible for Leagues One and Two, could receive enough money to run their clubs in the pro era and they would have authority over the proposed European Cup and Leagues. The huge input, largely from Sky of pounds 140m, should mean that the meeting can be conducted without the stress of money being fought over.

Tony Hallett, secretary of the Rugby Union, welcomed the Sky offer to the clubs, which is in addition to the pounds 87m negotiated by Twickenham for international matches. "If the clubs can get their money there should be less pressure on the RFU to supply money and we can use more of the pounds 87m for development of the game outside the top 24 teams."

The newly-formed European Rugby Federation, of which Epruc is a part, said: "It remains our desire to co-operate with the unions and work with them to guarantee the highest possible standards for northern hemisphere rugby."

Last Friday, the ERF announced wide-ranging plans for two European competitions vastly more ambitious than the European Cup starting next week- end. ERF issued tenders for broadcasting, but it seemed Sky are providing an unprecedented amount of money provided clubs and unions broker a truce.

ERF said yesterday: "Contrary to some reports ERF have identified considerable interest from a number of broadcasters and sponsors for properly run European league and Cup competitions organised by the clubs.

"The ERF clubs had discussions with Sky last week and the interest from Sky was attractive because it offered the prospect of a peace formula from the rugby wars, whereby unions and clubs could work together for the greater good of the game. ERF continues to strive for that goal."