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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK

Sport: Rugby Union

Mutiny, expulsion and 'old farts'

The fireworks off the pitch have drawn the most recent attention

For those in charge of rugby union in England, the controversy surrounding Lawrence Dallaglio was just the latest in a long line of embarrassments.

Dallaglio special report
The tabloid allegations brought unwanted publicity for the game in the build-up to the World Cup.

But while the Dallaglio affair has hardly been good news for rugby, it may not have been too much of a worry for the Rugby Football Union, who are more used than most to seeing their sport on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.

In 1995, then captain Will Carling was briefly relieved of his post for criticising the RFU.

[ image: Clive Woodward: So often caught in the middle between club and country]
Clive Woodward: So often caught in the middle between club and country
Not one to shy away from publicity, Carling had reportedly called the RFU "old farts" in the run up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup - and although he later had his position reinstated, he never quite shook off the bad-boy image.

One year later, England were turfed out of the Five Nations Championship after unilaterally signing a five-year £87.5m broadcasting deal with Sky.

A peace deal, the Five Nations accord, was eventually signed in September 1996. But it failed to give birth to a lasting compromise with England ultimately rejecting the terms of the agreement.

That decision led to England being expelled from the 1999 tournament, albeit briefly. But the ramifications could have been enormous, with Italy poised to enter the tournament one year early.

European pull-out

But England's problems are not confined to the international arena.

Last season, the country's leading clubs pulled out of the European Cup, won the year before by Bath, in protest at the structure of the season which includes a month-long block of European games.

The clubs also appealed to the European Commission questioning the International Rugby Board's (IRB) control of the availability of players, broadcasting rights and control of tournaments.

In response the ruling body accused the RFU of failing to control its clubs and fined England £62,000 in December for not taking action over unauthorised friendly games between English sides and rebel Welsh clubs Cardiff and Swansea.


In effect, England's Premiership clubs ultimately rejected the RFU as their ruling body.

Many clubs backed Northampton owner, Keith Arwell, over his refusal to release his players for England's summer tour of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

And they upbraided England coach, Clive Woodward, for his "unnecessary and provocative" ultimatum to his players to commit themselves to the English cause.

[ image: England's disastrous 1998 summer tour resulted in a Test whitewash]
England's disastrous 1998 summer tour resulted in a Test whitewash
It left England with few players from which to choose.

The heart of the pack, Jason Leonard, Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill, and most of the backs, Kyran Bracken, PaulGrayson, Jeremy Guscott, David Rees, Mike Catt and Phil de Glanville, were among those taking time out.

The Australian Rugby Union described it as the "biggest sell-out since Gallipoli".

No surpises, it resulted in a whitewash - with England scoring no points against either South Africa (0-18) or Australia (0-76).

It had been a mutiny of the highest order from the Premiership clubs - one that had led to embarrassment and defeat for those who had travelled with Woodward on the summer tour.

But now those very clubs are under threat themselves.

The increasing financial pressures of the huge salaries paid to leading players has threatened many clubs, notably Richmond, who have already gone into receivership, with bankruptcy.

While gate receipts have been getting smaller, salaries have been getting bigger with the inevitable result that many clubs are now struggling to graft professionalism on to a structure built on amateurism in all its forms.

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