Rugby: England's 'dirty tactics' could backfire

England and the All Blacks last played at Twickenham in 2014. Photo / photosport.nz
England and the All Blacks last played at Twickenham in 2014. Photo / photosport.nz

England's dirty tactics over threatening to deny the All Blacks a match against the Barbarians at Twickenham in November look set to blow up in their face and persuade New Zealand Rugby to reject an offer to play Eddie Jones all-conquering Six Nations team at the same venue on the same day.

New Zealand Rugby officials would not comment last night after the Daily Mail newspaper revealed Barbarians insiders have condemned England's RFU for threatening to veto their historical match against the All Blacks in London on November 4.

The Mail reported that the RFU and its chief executive Ian Ritchie have been condemned for 'deceitful and underhand' conduct amid escalating tensions over their efforts to arrange a match between England and the world champions at Twickenham which would replace the Baa Baas game which is marked to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the unique organisation.

But insiders said the RFU's tactics have upset NZR as well as Barbarians officials and is likely to convince them to stand their ground and reject the England overture for a grudge match between the world's top two ranked rugby nations.

The RFU was already failing to offer a strong enough financial deal for NZR to change its mind anyway, and Ritchie's threat will only have shored up that position.

It was the Daily Mail who earlier this week revealed England's governing body was desperately trying to convince the All Blacks to agree to a fixture at Twickenham instead.

The Mail claimed Ritchie is threatening to veto the Barbarians match which New Zealand Rugby had provisionally agreed to. The RFU own Twickenham.

The newspaper claimed "a well-placed source" has revealed that Ritchie made renewed contact with his Kiwi counterpart, NZR chief executive Steve Tew, on Thursday night.

The Mail said it understood that the response from Tew was to reiterate that NZR's wish is for the All Blacks to play the Barbarians, in a ceremonial fixture with profound historical resonance.

However, Ritchie is believed to have countered by stating that there is a meeting of the RFU's board this week and that, as the national governing body, they may now refuse approval for the match to take place within their jurisdiction. This stance indicates the union's willingness to adopt ultra-aggressive negotiating tactics, in order to force the issue.

NZR could take the Baa Baas match to another venue if Ritchie holds his ground. London's Wembley Stadium looms as an alternative.

There was already unrest among leading English clubs, who were unaware of the proposed England-All Blacks fixture until it came out in the media.

The Daily Mail reported "now it appears the Premiership sides are not alone in feeling aggrieved".

It said another source claimed that the Barbarians regard the RFU's conduct as 'deceitful and underhand'.

Their gripe is seemingly based on a dispute over the chronology of this saga. The RFU's official line is that they only became aware of the proposed Barbarians v All Blacks game a few weeks ago and have simply made tentative enquiries about whether England could participate instead.

Yet the Barbarians insist that permission was originally sought last November and that the RFU had given consent for their match to take place - even agreeing a stadium hire fee of £500,000.

The RFU sought to clarify the situation, emphasising that the fixture they had approved was to have been between Australia and the Barbarians.

However, they stated that was then 'taken off the table' by the promoter and replaced by a proposed Barbarians-All Blacks game instead. The union are adamant that they have never given any approval for that contest to take place

-Daily Mail and staff reporter

- NZ Herald

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