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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 12:30 GMT
RFU could manage England's elite
By Simon Austin

Jonny Wilkinson
The RFU would decide when stars like Jonny Wilkinson played
England's top players could be controlled by the Rugby Football Union next season if a proposal is agreed by the Premiership chairmen on Thursday.

Premier Rugby's negotiating team met top RFU officials last Friday.

They agreed, in principal, that England elite director of rugby Rob Andrew can manage the country's 32 top players from next season.

The RFU would then pay the salaries of these players and release them back to their clubs as and when it saw fit.

France and England are the only major rugby nations that do not have central control over their players.

Former England coaches Andy Robinson and Sir Clive Woodward both complained of the limited access they had to their players when they resigned.

I wouldn't be too optimistic about this being ratified

A club chairman

The proposed new scheme would allow Andrew and England head coach Brian Ashton to have total control over the country's elite players.

They would decide when the players turned out for their clubs, when they rested and how injuries were managed, all with the target of players peaking for international matches.

The scheme is not, strictly speaking, one of central contracts, because the players would not be contracted directly to the RFU.

Instead, the RFU would have a contractual agreement with the clubs, allowing it to manage the players in return for paying their salaries.

606 DEBATE: Give your thoughts on this possibility

However, one club chairman told BBC Sport: "I wouldn't be too optimistic about this being ratified.

"I've not met one player who likes the thought of central contracts, which is essentially what this would be.

"Will it help the England team? How much training can a player do?

"Then there's the question of whether spending more time with England actually benefits the players.

"Look at the Argentina game, when the England squad had been together for a couple of weeks and lost to a side that had had 48 hours of preparation time."

Another proposal that will be considered on Thursday is a scheme to reward Premiership clubs for fielding English-qualified players (EQPs).

Under the suggestion, if a club fields 60% EQPs in the first season of the scheme, they would be entitled to a payment from the RFU.

The proportion required for entitlement will rise to 70% in the second season of the scheme and 80% in the third.

There has been immense goodwill on the part of Premier Rugby

Martyn Thomas
RFU chairman

Access to England's top players is currently governed by the "elite player scheme".

This was introduced in 2001 and deems that players can train with England for 16 days per season.

The clubs are compensated 1m a year for this, but the players have often turned up for the training days - which are usually on Mondays and Tuesdays - injured following a fixture on the prior weekend.

The scheme expires at the end of the season.

On Friday, the RFU delegation - chairman Martyn Thomas, chief executive Francis Baron and Andrew - held discussions with Premier Rugby's negotiating team - Tom Walkinshaw, Mark McCafferty, Nigel Wray of Saracens and Leicester duo Peter Tom and Peter Wheeler.

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas told BBC Sport that the talks were "extremely positive" and that there was "immense goodwill on the part of Premier Rugby".

The parties reached agreement on management of players and the negotiating team will present their proposals to the 12 Premiership club chairmen and shareholders on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the RFU and clubs are determined to revamp the Academy system, which is deemed to be failing by both parties.

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