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Rugby players association's Damien Hopley
"Everyone's interests have been aligned to ensure rugby has a bright future"
 real 56k

RFU chief Francis Barron
"Both sides are very pleased with the deal"
 real 56k

Chairman of Premier Rugby Colin Walkinshaw
"Everyone's worked hard to come up with a proper structure"
 real 56k

BBC Sport's Ian Robertson
"After a mere four years of bickering, peace really does seem to have broken out"
 real 14k

Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
New deal to protect England stars
Austin Healey
Austin Healey has played 50 games since last August
England's top rugby union players will play a maximum of 32 matches each year as part of a new agreement brokered by rugby officials on Tuesday.

But no mention was made about the Rugby Football Union's (RFU) proposed deal to fund the switch of top rugby league players to union after the meeting.

The new agreement follows complaints of tiredness from many Lions players on their return from the hectic tour of Australia.

An elite squad of 50 to 60 England players will be restricted to 32 matches a season, including a maximum of 10 internationals in a calendar year and eight in one season.

The news will come as a relief to England's top players, many of whom are scheduled to play nine internationals between October and April, followed by a summer tour of the South Seas.


The agreement is the final piece of the jigsaw of our recently announced strategic plan
  RFU chief Francis Baron

The RFU has been at constant loggerheads with the clubs since the game turned professional in 1995.

But the two sides have put aside their differences to form a new group called England Rugby.

The new body will look after the financial and playing welfare at club and international level.

The 12 Premiership clubs will share 1.6m next season and will gain a further cut of a 4m handout in following seasons with an as well as a 1m benefit in World Cup years.

In addition to the financial windfalls, all Premiership clubs' debts will be written off.

Francis Baron, chief executive of the RFU, was particularly pleased by the progress made by the two parties.

"We started the negotiations with a clean sheet of paper and for the first time both parties started looking to the future," he said.

Commonwealth Games boost

"The agreement is the final piece of the jigsaw of our recently announced strategic plan for the benefit of the game at all levels."

Gloucester owner Tom Walkinshaw, chairman of Premier Rugby, was another who expressed his delight with the news of a breakthrough.

"I believe we will move forward together as long term partners," he said.

"This agreement for the first time creates a true joint venture aligning the interests of the Rugby Football Union, the clubs and the players."

England Rugby will take over a number of responsibilities, including negotiations of all TV and commercial rights and management of the national squad and the England seven-a-side teams.

And Baron revealed England will enter a sevens team in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

"We want to support the Games in our own country and win gold," he added.

Other measures announced included the establishment of development academies to nurture future stars and attract a new and younger generation to the sport.

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See also:

23 Jul 01 |  Northern Ireland
Henderson out for six months
21 Jul 01 |  Lions Down Under
Gibbs' Lions fatigue fears
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