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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 15:53 GMT

Sport: Rugby Union

Cooke blasts RFU 'puppets'

Geoff Cooke: "EFDR will cheerfully sacrifice clubs like Bedford and Sale (above)"

Former England manager Geoff Cooke has accused the Rugby Football Union of being "puppets in the hands" of the Premiership's wealthiest clubs.

Cooke - chief executive of Premiership Two leaders Worcester - is furious that automatic promotion and relegation between the top divisions of English Rugby has been suspended.


The decision means that even if his club, as expected, win their division, they could be prevented from joining Premiership One.

English First Division Rugby, the umbrella organisation for the 12 top clubs, wants a play-off between the Premiership Two champions and Premiership One's bottom-placed team.

"The RFU should act immediately to reinstate automatic promotion and relegation between divisions one and two for this season," said Cooke.

"Not to do so would be a dereliction of their duty to act in the best interests of their member clubs, and give further credence to the view that senior RFU officers are puppets in the hands of one or two wealthy and influential club owners."

Cooke also had sharp words for EFDR, saying that it was "disgraceful" that the organisation "should be allowed to ignore the legitimate claims of the second division clubs".

'Ruin their plan'

"They seem to be determined to create their own exclusive 10-club elite, and some of them will cheerfully sacrifice clubs like Bedford and Sale in order to achieve their selfish objectives.

"They are only protecting these clubs in the short term in the hope that financial problems will cause them to drop out of the first division, leaving the 10 club number they seek."

He said that the promotion of a "financially sound" second division club like Worcester would "ruin this element of their forward plan".

"Let's face it, the current financial difficulties of EFDR clubs are almost entirely of their own making," said Cooke.

Sugar daddy

Worcester's "sugar daddy" is multi-millionaire Cecil Duckworth, wo has funded the club's squad development and built outstanding facilities at the Sixways ground.

Earlier this year, EFDR was taken to court by Rotherham for permitting the reduction of Premiership One from 14 to 12 clubs when London Irish merged with Richmond and London Scottish.

They argued that the 1998 Mayfair Agreement stipulated that EFDR had to give 12 months' notice before any such reduction. Teh case was dismissed.

But Cooke said that the provisions of that ruling meant that EFDR would have to abide by the Leicester Agreement (1997) "which commits the clubs to automatic promotion and relegation between divisions one and two".

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