Wood refuses to give way
There was little or no sign of a ceasefire, never mind a peace treaty, between a rebellious Keith Wood and a resolute IRFU last night over his vexed international contract.
It is almost certain last season's Irish captain will be absent for this month's three internationals, and beyond that indefinitely.
Wood himself was adamant that he would not be travelling to Cork to rendezvous with the rest of the 28-man Irish squad last night. He was the only player who hadn't shown up, and Irish coach Warren Gatland was resigned to being without the Lions hooker.
Although Wood has claimed that his dispute has nothing to do with the money offered to him and the other nine English-based players in the squad, he was quoted by the Press Association yesterday as deriding the retainer on offer to them.
"The £5,000 contract compares with £40,000-plus that is the going rate."
While it is true that the basic retainer for the overseas-based members of the Irish squad has been reduced from £15,000 to £5,000, their potential earnings are liable to be greater this season. Furthermore, the IRFU have given Wood a verbal agreement that he could continue his newspaper column, and were flexible on other matters; this does not appear to have been satisfactory to him.
Wood reiterated he would not be travelling to Cork. "The IRFU gave me an ultimatum on Friday. I should have travelled straight from Harlequins match in London to Cork for a squad session but I am not catching that plane.
"The point at issue is that the IRFU want to use me in any promotional capacity in the next couple of years, including World Cup '99, without my consent. I will play for nothing, but I am not signing that contract and they are saying that they will not select me until I do sign. I am making a stand and I am not telling the other players what to do.
"The effect is that I am not joining the squad. Captaining Ireland is the biggest honour a player can have but it would be tantamount to madness to sign away all my rights. It is a business issue not rugby. "I don't want money to play for Ireland, but I feel that my commercial value is worth more than the IRFU are offering me and I will have no control over how they market me."
A disappointed Gatland, already weary of the drugs issue which has rocked Irish rugby and is still rumbling, commented last night: "We would love him to play for Ireland but these contracts were sent out last July and that was the time to raise contentious issues and for players to decide if they wanted to be treated independently, not in the last three weeks.
"The 10 English-based players are all represented by the same solicitor and one of the agreements reached with the other players was that they would all be paid the same. So it's come to a bit of a stalemate."
The Ulster hooker Allen Clarke has been invited to join the Irish squad today in advance of the 26-man Irish squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers and Test against South Africa on November 28th, and Gatland conceded that the Irish management expect to be without Wood. "He knows where we are but it seems as if he's made himself unavailable."
Gatland revealed he had already decided that Paddy Johns would continue the captaincy duties he inherited from Wood during the South African tour. "Paddy was always going to get the captaincy. We spoke to Paddy about it four or five weeks ago."