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Club v Country back on the agenda



Baron and Barwell reveal all
Tuesday May 23 2006
Complete list of misunderstandings laid bare on BBC Radio

RFU Chief Executive Francis Baron and Northampton Chairman Keith Barwell have contrived to reveal the depth of mis-communication between the RFU and England's clubs during a BBC Radio Northampton broadcast.

Barwell went on an all-out offensive prior to the interview with Baron, accusing the RFU of planning ambush tactics in order to get their own way, and claiming that the clubs were making more money by themselves than England could in a game.

Meanwhile, Baron said that Barwell had his facts wrong, and insisted that he was all in favour of the clubs' progress.

"They're nice enough people the RFU but they still live in the past," said Barwell.

"They want the players for 26 weeks a year…and what we're saying is we will do that but we want compensation because we now need to buy others players and have bigger squads and are the RFU showing signs of wanting to talk to us? No.

"What will happen is that the RFU will leave it to the absolute last minute, they'll come in October and give their demands and leak to the press that 'we're the rotten old clubs.'

"The clubs have already put forward the Weston plan, we want an extra half a million pounds per club, it shouldn't cost them a whole lot more because what they want is to put on another international, which is worth another £4 million...

"We're happy to give the players to the RFU for 26 weeks, but we actually don't think the time will make the difference, it's what Andy Robinson actually does with them.

"What the players actually need is rest, Andy Robinson seems to think if the player's aren’t running up mountain sides then they're not fit to play, well I think he's completely wrong.

"PRL is likely to have a bigger turnover next year than the RFU we think five years down the road that the average gate at a Premiership ground will be 20,000, so work it out, 6 x 20,000, 120,000 people watching rugby, bigger than Twickenham.

"The RFU should realise if they've got any sense that the time to negotiate is now, and do a sensible deal, we're quite willing, but if they let us get much stronger we'll just go our own way without them."

Baron responded in a heated live broadcast on Monday, saying that the RFU's success was worthy of equal praise, and insisting that England's call was an obligation.

"We're delighted to get the All Blacks over to have a celebration event for the opening of the enlarged Twickenham," said Baron.

"It's a great event for everybody involved in the game in England. We've financed the development ourselves without any outside help and that's a great credit to everybody involved in the game. I don't think any other sports governing body has been able to do that with their stadiums.

"Our agreement with PRL is very clear on this point [of player release for the international matches] and was signed back in 2001.

"It does require PRL to release players for England international matches. On a more positive note we are very keen to get PRL involved in the celebrations.

"They will benefit to the tune of about £1m from it and this is a celebration of the professional game in England both at club and at international level and we want them very much to join in."

In response to Barwell's assertions that England wanted the players for 26 weeks, Baron was quick to jump on what he perceived as a mistake.

"I don't know where Keith gets his numbers from. We don't want the players for 26 weeks of the year, that's not correct," he said.

"We're very happy with the 16 England training days we have under contract with Premier Rugby. That was agreed back in 2004.

"The only issue that needs to be resolved is when those 16 England training days will fall. [England head coach] Andy Robinson has asked for them to be blocked into a small number of weeks that will be of maximum benefit for the England team and will reduce the impact on the Premiership clubs as well.

"...it is frustrating that we haven't been able to nail down these issues. However the Weston Plan has been tabled, there are some very good ideas in that which we're going to follow up on.

"There are a number of areas the RFU can't deliver on because we don't control them - for example the future of the Heineken Cup, because the ERC company is owned by six Northern Hemisphere Unions - but there is some positive stuff and we want to build on those areas that we have in common so that we can build a new and better agreement going forward.

"That's in everybody's interest, the clubs and the country. We want the strongest professional club rugby possible in England and we're very passionate about that.

"Don't forget that we've invested something like £40m in the Premiership clubs. We're very keen that they continue their success and that will remain the case going forward."

Baron also fielded Barwell's scarcely veiled accusation that Andy Robinson was over-working his players - even when it was pointed out how many of the players were missing from this June's Test series against Australia. His defence was that it was good for development.

"Andy's a relatively new head coach and we've recently made changes to our coaching set-up. We're looking at new opportunities that can be taken in terms of the England team's preparation and Andy's tabled some very good proposals about the use of the training days that we have under contract with PRL," continued Baron.

"The key to all this is that the club and the international games have to work together. They complement each other. We believe there are ways we can address the problems that have bedevilled the game so that we can go forward together and the two parts of the game can work in harmony.

"Whenever you select a side at the end of the season there will be players that don't travel because of injury or the need for surgery.

"The same goes for the Southern Hemisphere sides who come up here at the end of their season. But looking forward to the World Cup, Andy Robinson is able to look at some of the exciting younger players who are coming on.

"He wants to have a large squad of 40 to 50 players that can be honed down to the final 30 who will travel to France to defend the World Cup."

Baron also revealed that he had recently lunched with Barwell and that common targets had been amicably discussed. However, given the depth of difference of opinion in the two interviews, it is unlikely that those common goals will be achieved any time soon.
I'm 100% on the side of the clubs. The RFU are constantly behaving like a bunch of idiots, apparently wanting more English players produced by the clubs, but unwilling to properly compensate them for then taking away that home grown talent for half the season.
The RFU seems to think that they can alter any existing agreement to suit them. Imagine if the clubs tried to do the same thing and decided not to release players for the Six Nations. The RFU would scream bloody murder.

The clubs are totally within their rights, but it does put the players in an awkward situation.
In order to avoid such a conflict the FFR had to cancell the test match they wanted to organize versus SA on the 4th of November.

There's a clear rule defined by the IRB, where only the Unions are represented, which defines when the test matchs can be organized I don't understand why the Unions try every year to breach this rule they have themselves defined. The clubs are not yet represented at the IRB board.
It's the timming of it all. The tests and six nations should be outwith the domestic season, or the domestic season should take a break while these are on.
Its a shame Canadian Rugger isn't hanging around the boards these days, wonder if he still wants the South to adopt the Northern Hemisphere system.

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