War Breaks out Again as Top Clubs Are Told They Face Ban

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER JACKSON

ENGLAND'S top 24 clubs are being threatened with the order of the boot from the Rugby Football Union Cup on the day when the four survivors bid for the final at Twickenham.

The latest explosive confrontation in the interminable power struggle is contained in a letter from RFU chairman Cliff Brittle which will leave Tetley's Bitter wondering where they stand apropos their [pounds sterling]10million-plus sponsorship of the competition.

The row coincides with back-to-back semi-finals - at Northampton where Saints take on Saracens before a sell-out 9,000 (2pm) and at Loftus Road where Wasps challenge Sale (4pm) - with at least 50,000 guaranteed at Twickenham on May 10 whoever gets there.

As if the game had not suffered enough convulsions, Brittle's communique declares his readiness to plunge English rugby into deeper turmoil by taking reprisal action against the clubs over their continuing boycott of Europe.

Brittle enumerates the penalties for staying out. 'In practice this means that ERP (the power-sharing umbrella organisation English Rugby Partnership) will not receive the [pounds sterling]1.5m RFU grant. Nor will it participate in the Tetley's Bitter Cup receipts.' The clubs interpret that as an effective notice of expulsion. Saracens, 80 minutes away from their first final, describe it as 'a kick in the teeth'. In confirming receipt of the Brittle letter, Sarries' chief executive Mike Smith said: 'I am astounded. The timing of this letter, coming on one of the biggest dates in the history of this club, is unbelievable.

'Here we are hoping to get to the final while we receive a letter from Cliff threatening to throw us all out of the competition next season. I'm furious.' The development followed what both parties had regarded as a 'positive' summit meeting at Terminal 4 of Heathrow Airport last Wednesday in the latest attempt to shift the impasse between the Union and its clubs on finding a joint way forward. …