Robert Armstrong Rugby
It was the briefest of exiles. Less than 24 hours after being thrown out of the Five Nations Championship, England were reinstated with farcical speed after agreeing this week to toe the line laid down by the tournament’s governing committee.
Their expulsion was overturned shortly after Rugby Football Union representatives gave unconditional support to a legally binding 10-year agreement on the share-out of Five Nations television revenue.
However, it was not a total climbdown by England. Twickenham’s anxieties over perceived shortcomings in the 10-year accord will be addressed at a further meeting, probably early next month. The financial input of France, who have hitherto kept all the TV revenue from their home games, and Italy, who may require cash support from the other unions, are certain to figure high on the list of Rugby Football Union concerns. In short, this dispute is set to rumble on.
In effect, England agreed to be bound by the findings of an independent valuer, who will determine their contribution to the Five Nations pooled revenue, which could be up to 35- million.
Allan Hosie, chair of the Five Nations Committee, said he was delighted all the unions were now signatories to the agreement. “The Five Nations Championship without the participation of England would not have been the same,” he said in the understatement of the year.
England’s prompt reinstatement was also good news for BSkyB, with which they agreed the five-year 87,5-million deal that also precipitated their expulsion – and reintroduction in 1996 – and for Lloyds/TSB, the Five Nations’ title sponsor which has a ground- breaking agreement worth 12-million to the unions over three years. The sponsor would certainly have revised its financial commitment downwards had England not returned to the fold.
The status quo means that Italy, who enter the tournament next year, will not after all take England’s place this season. Instead England’s Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Twickenham on February 20, for which all 74E000 seats have been sold, will go ahead as planned.