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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 12:35 GMT
Player row reaches crisis point
Sale and England fly-half Charlie Hodgson and Leicester number eight and England captain Martin Corry
Hodgson and Corry may face each other just before the Six Nations
Talks to end the long-running dispute between the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby, the body representing English clubs, have stalled.

That means many of Andy Robinson's England squad look set to play against each other the weekend before the opening Six Nations game against Wales.

Player-release for internationals is one of the issues in dispute.

The RFU's latest offer was rejected by Premier Rugby on Wednesday and the two sides appear to be heading for court.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, the RFU management board's chairman Martyn Thomas said: "What concerns us most is that the clubs are killing the players."

Seven days before England take on Grand Slam winners Wales at Twickenham the Premiership matches include such heavyweight clashes as Leicester v Sale and Bath v Wasps.

"It's suicide. We want to give (England coach) Andy (Robinson) the best crack at the Six Nations," said Thomas to The Daily Telegraph.

"To do that, we don't need his leading players knocking seven bells out of each other and then trying to play as a cohesive unit.

"If England haven't been able to deliver because of a poor start, then people should work out where the blame lies."

We have no wish to go to court but if they seriously want to reach a settlement they should go about it properly
Mark McCafferty
Premier Rugby
Aside from player-release the other main issue between English rugby's warring camps concerns compensation withheld from clubs following the Lions tour.

The two sides had appeared to be getting closer to a compromise in recent weeks but Premier Rugby described the RFU's latest offer as "shameless and antagonistic".

This week the RFU offered the clubs nearly 75,000, half the sum owed for the Lions players, plus interest, with the remainder going to charity.

But Premier Rugby's chief executive Mark McCafferty told The Guardian: "It is a pretty awful way of going about things and it has no place in a commercial dispute.

"What it shows is that the RFU have a weak legal case and they know it.

We have to find a means of getting along
Martyn Thomas
Rugby Football Union
"We have no wish to go to court but, if they seriously want to reach a settlement before 27 February, they should go about it properly."

Thomas told The Daily Telegraph that the offer was made in good faith and that the concept of dividing the money had been discussed at meetings between the two sides.

"I've been trying desperately to find a way forward," said Thomas.

"The clubs and the RFU are wed together, so we can't divorce. We have to find a means of getting along."

The two sides will meet again early next week but there once again appears to be little common ground.




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