31 May 2006
At a press briefing on Game Funding at Twickenham Stadium today (Tuesday), RFU Chief Executive Francis Baron said that he was optimistic that the Union and Premier Rugby, who put forward their proposals in the Weston Plan, could reach early agreement on many of the issues involved and then discuss those which involved other parties and Unions over a longer period of time. A positive response to yesterday's PRL presentation to the RFU Council had been sent to their Chief Executive.
Baron said that the RFU would particularly like to agree the Elite Player Squad programme in a way that would "work for them and for us. "Let's get it costed and work out how many additional players the clubs might need and we will accept the responsibility of meeting those additional costs," he said.
"There is a way forward on this. We are not arguing about the number of release days," said Francis Baron. What was in question, he explained, was how the agreed 16 days for England training was blocked.
Asked whether leaving an England player appearing for his club for a reduced period would deter club supporters and sponsors, Baron said, "We have been doing our bit to reduce unnecessary burdens on the clubs. We have reduced the A team programme, which will see only two A team matches instead of four and we have also persuaded the IRB to drop one of the age grade teams so that there will be U18s and U20s and no U21s. The benefits will be felt in the 2006/07 season."
Asked why the RFU was not in favour of four autumn internationals as proposed by PRL but wanted a fourth itself this year Baron said, "That is a one off event. A stadium opening match is a natural desire and we remain disappointed that the clubs don't wish to join in our celebration of the wonderful new South Stand development." In the long term, however, he did not think the benefits would be there for the rest of the game with a fourth match, unless the season structure was changed.
Why was the RFU not prepared to change the �2million earmarked for the community game from the Anglo-Welsh Cup if this had not been in the budget before the competition began this year was one journalist's query.
Nick Eastwood, RFU Finance Director, explained that the finance had always been in the RFU's budget. "We always shared the surplus between the Premiership and the rest of the game through our agreement with Powergen." The clubs, wanting the Anglo-Welsh arrangement, has committed freely to the continuation of that amount for the community game.
Francis Baron added that from Premier Rugby Chief Executive Mark McAfferty's comments to the RFU Council yesterday it was clear that "they have as much interest in the community game as we have.
"I am optimistic because I believe the RFU and ERL have moved forward and are close enough on a number of issues." He said. "If we could move to the next stage and nail down the areas we can agree and then work on the areas that will take more time and a lot of diplomacy we can make real progress.
"I think there is a genuine realisation on PRL's part that the 2007 Rugby World Cup is pretty close and if we are going to offer Andy Robinson an improved EPS programme we have to do it now."
Francis Baron added that he believed Mark McAfferty had said as much and that there was a will on both sides to see England present a realistic World Cup defence.
Journalists asked about the situation regarding both the Barbarians and the Lions and Baron said that the RFU supported the Barbarians as one of its oldest member clubs and wanted to make sure they were successful. On the British & Irish Lions his personal view was that they needed to have a slightly different structure to fit the modern, professional game. "But you have got to carry three other Unions with you," he added, "who tend to be rather more conservative and move at a slower pace."
Asked if the sabre rattling and threats of legal action were now being superseded by proper negotiation, Francis Baron said, "I hope that we are about to start that. There has been a lot of unnecessary posturing and we have not been entirely blameless but I think there is a change of attitude on both sides and I hope that we can nail things down in a reasonable period of time."
The RFU Council had to discuss all the options, he said, and look at what happened if agreement was not reached and had to look at whether the RFU could give up some of its own holy cows, which could include the likes of promotion and relegation.
Were the two negotiating teams capable of working together? Francis Baron replied that you had to work with the properly elected people on the other side of the table and could not decide who the other team put in to bat. And Chairman of the Management Board, Martyn Thomas, who heads the RFU negotiation team added, "We got on very well, actually."