Andrew unveils blueprint for English rugby
December 16, 1999

Rob Andrew has revealed radical new proposals for the future of English professional rugby union. Former England fly-half Andrew is heading up a Twickenham task force appointed to deliver a blueprint aimed at improving the sport.

Andrew today divulged details of his first draft report, which will be discussed further by the Rugby Football Union management board next Wednesday.

The biggest proposed changes include playing the English domestic league competition _ currently the Allied Dunbar Premiership _ in one block of 22 matches between September 2 next year and January 27, 2001.

That would then be followed by the European Cup, also in block form between February 3 and March 31, with the season reaching its climax through the Six Nations championship played out over seven weekends between April 7 and May 19.

Andrew believes that the number of games for leading international players should be restricted to between 30 and 35, and a specific rest and pre-season period would be drawn up for July and August each year.

Currently, the Premiership and Europe's Heineken Cup are spread liberally throughout a nine-month season with the Six Nations taking place from February to April and a week off between fixtures.

Andrew's new English domestic league would comprise 12 teams providing a geographical spread of professional franchises across England.

Franchises would be offered on a divisional basis _ three teams each from the North, Midlands, South West and London, with clubs having to meet criteria regarding stadia, player academies and community links among other topics.

If such a procedure is implemented, though, it raises an immediate question mark about London, which currently has four professional clubs _ Saracens, Wasps, London Irish and Harlequins.

These franchises would last for a minimum of four years without promotion or relegation, and Andrew is keen that the professional game has its own identity at the top echelon of the sport.

With regard to the Six Nations, Andrew's report said: ``This should be seen as the pinnacle of the European season.

``If scheduled for April and May this will allow international teams to be together for three months, including possible summer tours.''

Andrew is also keen to see the currently unsponsored European Shield tournament, a second tier event below the Heineken Cup, rebranded.

``It has the potential to be as strong a competition as the cup. French teams competing this year include Brive, Pau, Biarritz and Agen,'' he added.

The English professional charter would be run by a commission _ a 50-50 venture between franchises and the RFU.

``A commission board would comprise four representatives, split equally among the franchises and RFU, with the chairmanship rotating annually and monthly meetings established. All income to the franchises, such as television and sponsorship money would be distributed to franchises via the board.''

Newcastle director of rugby Andrew has no doubt that urgent action needs to be taken to bring to an end more than four years of political squabbling and damaging uncertainty in the English professional game.

``Everyone is crying out for people in power to sort out the problems once and for all,'' he said.

``Something has got to be done _ we've destroyed more rugby clubs in the race to become a professional game than we've created.

``Teams are losing their grounds, and this haemorrhaging has got to stop. It is crazy; all the money is going to bank managers and out of the game, and now is the time to have a big difference between the professional end and the rest of the game.

``At the moment we've got no foundation for the game _ there is no platform for us to work from. There is no structure. Look at the Leicester players; they are knackered because they've been on a treadmill for four years,'' added Andrew.

``Everyone just wants this sorting out. I go to rugby clubs all the time, and people are fed up. They don't want to talk about it any more; they just want an objective to work towards.''

Andrew's buzzwords are ``direction, stability and credibility'', and although it is early days yet he would appear far more likely to win Twickenham backing for his proposals as opposed to the $84 million Superleague plans revealed last week by Gloucester owner Tom Walkinshaw.

RFU representatives including chief executive Francis Baron and chairman Brian Baister met with Walkinshaw and other club officials in Manchester yesterday.

The Superleague proposals were discussed together with Andrew's report, as behind-the-scenes movement continues apace.

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