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Players poised to consider strike

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    Players poised to consider strike

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    England's leading players could go on strike if the row between the top clubs and the Rugby Football Union continues.

    The players' union are considering balloting members over taking action to force a settlement in the dispute over a shareholding in the Heineken Cup.

    "If common sense doesn't prevail, then where else can you turn?" Damian Hopley, boss of the players' union, told the Daily Telegraph.

    "The game isn't so much shooting itself in the foot, as blowing off both feet."

    The dispute between Premier Rugby, the umbrella body for the English Premiership clubs, and the Rugby Football Union, English rugby's governing body, is over shareholding and voting rights in European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisation behind the Heineken Cup.

    The clubs want a 50% shareholding and claim the RFU has gone back on a deal struck last October.

    But the RFU deny an agreement over the release of international players involved commercial rights in Europe and pulled out.

    That led to England's top-flight clubs joining their French counterparts in opting out of next season's European competitions.

    The RFU, in turn, have written to the clubs to warn them of the legal implications of a boycott.

    Hopley, chief executive of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, added: "If revolution is the only language that people can understand, then maybe we will have to ballot our members and see if they are willing to take strike action.

    "We have this Jerry Springer-type washing of dirty linen in public, which does no-one any good."

    The escalating power struggle could lead to a breakaway league, according to Northampton owner Keith Barwell.

    "I wouldn't be surprised if a Kerry Packer-style figure saw this stand-off as a chance to seize control of northern hemisphere rugby," he told the Guardian.

    "The Richard Bransons of this world will see that the Premiership and Heineken Cup are probably worth £50m.

    "If they pay each club £3m that would leave a tidy profit."

    And Barwell added: "We might lose the odd battle but we're going to win the war.

    "Give us another 10 years and you'll see the clubs in full ascendancy - with the RFU reduced to a figurehead role in the game. No wonder they're frightened of us."@@@@/SPAN>