Rugby World looks back more than 20 years ago when a dispute over pay nearly saw a team of amateurs represent England at Twickenham Stadium...
An ongoing impasse over contracts and finances in the regional game is threatening to spill over onto the international stage.
However, any English rugby fans caught crowing over the chaos of Welsh rugby ahead of the fixture in Cardiff maybe unaware that at the turn of the century, it was those wearing the Red Rose who threatened to down tools and not fulfil a match.
After defeating then World Champions Australia in November 2000, the England squad walked out en masse from the team hotel following a dispute over pay.
This forced RFU to delay naming the squad for the international that followed against Argentina.
Head coach Clive Woodward labelled the actions ‘the saddest day in the history of English rugby’ and offered an ultimatum to his players that he would pick another side if they did not return to training. There was even talk of a team of amateurs representing their country against the Pumas.
That threat was dismissed by captain Martin Johnson who accused the RFU of being “old-fashioned, patronising and arrogant.”
The row over pay had been simmering for months as players fought against an RFU proposal to reduce the guaranteed fee and increase the win bonus.
After three days of chaos, a compromise was reached on the Wednesday following a meeting between the players and RFU representatives.
England took to the field at Twickenham and secured an underwhelming 19-0 win, with Jonny Wilkinson kicking 14 points and Ben Cohen landing the game’s only try with 11 minutes remaining.
Whilst it was a period that RFU chiefs at the time would rather forget, many players have since referenced the solidarity shown as a key reason behind England’s progression towards winning the sport’s biggest prize three years later.
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Winger Dan Luger told the Daily Mail: “‘The lads were completely solid,’ Luger said. ‘It made us a stronger team and was important in the development of the World Cup victory of 2003.”
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