June International Tours

RFU and PRL head for careful compromise

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The club versus country row has long been a contentious issue in England, with both sides striving to take an upper hand but neither really doing so.


In November it seemed as if the two sides had agreed a compromise when it was agreed players would only be eligible to play in three of England’s four tests. That was until, under the control of Andy Robinson, England slumped to two dire defeats and only just edged South Africa in the first test.


The clubs then reluctantly agreed to the release of their players for a fourth week running, something of a bittersweet victory for the RFU. Now with the Six Nations Championship in full flow the latest chapter in this ongoing saga has reared its ugly head – although there are signs of a makeover.


Brian Ashton will announce his England side to face Ireland on Tuesday February 25, a full six days before he was expected to do so, and twelve days before kick-off against Ireland in Dublin. It is hoped that such a move will gently remind the Premiership clubs to rest those players in the starting fifteen without antagonising in the way the All Black Test last November did.


Although they are under no obligation to comply with the RFU Rob Andrew – very much performing the role of go-between – would like to think the clubs will understand the bigger picture.


“While there is no obligation on them to do so (release the players) we would be very grateful for any support they could give us,” stressed Andrew.


Andrew is aware the clubs are now making a conscious effort to support the RFU but in terms of a long-term solution there is still a great deal to be done.


“The clubs are making a huge effort to co-operate. Prior to the game against Scotland, nine of the starting fifteen didn’t play the previous weekend. I do understand the position the clubs are in.”


The situation Andrew refers to is more prominent with clubs such as Newcastle Falcons who find themselves in a relegation battle and will be reluctant to rest their England trio of Jonny Wilkinson, Mathew Tait and Toby Flood for their trip to Bristol.


“I’d be very surprised if Newcastle said they wouldn’t play these three,” said Andrew, who as ex-Director of Rugby at the Falcons is well aware of the predicament his former club is in.


Andrew is being realistic with regards to this situation and appreciates the situation will be different for certain players and accepts while some clubs may comply that there will not be agreement across the whole board.


“It’s very likely to be individual circumstances as per player and as per club as to how they feel and they want to deal with it this weekend. We won’t get agreement across the board and the clubs are not obliged to give us that,” conceded Andrew.


The notion that there will not be unanimous support for the RFU on this matter raises once again the issue of how the clubs perceive the RFU and England’s interests, although even the public declaration of ‘understanding’ on Andrew’s part is a step forward.


If Newcastle do decide to call upon Wilkinson, Tait and Flood does this mean that in protecting their own interests, mainly Premiership survival, they are doing so to the detriment of England’s prospects?


This is a suggestion that all clubs will wish to avoid but will find it hard to do so as in the eyes of many your country should always come first.


But try telling that to a club fighting for its elite survival while at the same time wanting to support the interests of England. It’s a tricky predicament to say the least.


However this issue is just one small piece of a much larger picture, one that needs to be resolved totally before the RFU and Premier Rugby can enjoy a harmonious relationship. A relationship where the interests of both parties are satisfied without jeopardising their own goals.


In light of this problem the RFU has begun a major revie

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