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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Player survey leads to fresh row
Rugby union
A plea by rugby players' union chief executive Damian Hopley that his organisation could help solve club v country issues has led to a new row.

An Ipsos MORI poll of members of the Professional Rugby Players' Association (PRA) revealed serious concerns about the state of the game.

But the response of the Rugby Football Union to the survey produced only more bickering between the two factions.

Hopley rebuked the RFU for "points scoring" and "cherry-picking" results.

The poll contained the views of 398 players, including 257 English-qualified and 44 members of last season's Elite Player Squad.

The key issues highlighted include the length of the current season, an increase in the severity of injuries and the lack of input the players have in the way rugby is administered.

Some of the main findings were:

  • 60% of players said the season was too long (77% among the elite players), 7% that it was too short.

  • 54% believe they are playing too many games (66% for the elite).

  • 50% of players felt an 11-week close season was right, 29% said it was not enough.

  • 53% said there should be no Premiership fixtures on international weekends.

    Hopley believes the PRA can play a central role in ending the damaging dispute between the RFU and the clubs.

    "The time is right to recognise the input, value and common sense of the players," said Hopley, who wants the PRA to be represented on the boards of all the decision-making bodies in the English game.

    The survey identifies some very valid concerns on player welfare which the RFU shares

    RFU chairman Martyn Thomas
    "This is not about points scoring but (the PRA) cannot work in isolation because it is damaging to the image of the sport and ultimately damaging to our members," he added.

    But almost as soon as Hopley had finished his presentation the two organisations were bickering again.

    The RFU released a statement in which management board chairman Martyn Thomas detailed how the survey supports a number of initiatives on player welfare "which the RFU shares and understands and... are endeavouring to address."

    "This is precisely why our blueprint for English rugby beyond the 2009 season seeks to reduce the number of games Elite Player Squad members play from 32 to 28," Thomas said.

    "We have been doing our bit to reduce unnecessary burdens on the players," he added, citing a reduction in matches for the England Saxons (formerly A team), and a move towards an Under-20s age group programme in place of the Under-19s and Under-21s.

    It is very regrettable that the RFU seems to immediately want to turn this valuable work into a self-serving agenda

    PRL statement
    The RFU also highlighted the high quality of its medical care but said that despite support from the survey, its request for England players not to play in the Guinness Premiership the week before next year's Six Nations starts "has so far not been accepted by PRL".

    That drew an angry response from Premier Rugby Ltd (PRL), the body representing the 12 elite clubs, which accused the RFU of hijacking the poll.

    "It is very regrettable that the RFU seems to immediately want to turn this valuable work into a self-serving agenda," said a PRL statement.

    "The clubs will continue to work with the players and the PRA to strengthen the positives shown in the results and deal with the other important issues raised."

    Hopley was also dismayed by the RFU's response, reiterating the PRA survey "was not about point scoring, but about finding lasting solutions."

    "We are extremely disappointed that the RFU have chosen to cherry pick select results to back up their own cause, instead of viewing the data in its full context," Hopley added.

    "This survey is exclusively about the players' views, not those of the governing bodies, and we had hoped this thorough piece of work would usher in a new constructive dialogue between all the stakeholders.

    "Sadly, the announcement this afternoon does not support this. However, we are greatly encouraged by Martyn Thomas's comments that the players' interests should be integral to any new deal, and we therefore look forward to being included in all future discussions, as demanded by 93% of the players surveyed."

    RFU wins court battle on players
    27 Jul 06 |  Internationals


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