The same famous, nay infamous, negotiating skills that meant the Rugby Football Union took a barely credible 13 years since the advent of professionalism to reach agreement with England’s top clubs have been in evidence once again.
This time the governing body has turned its attention to how and where the elite and community games should interface.
The union’s somewhat less than silver tongue spent several hours locked in a Twickenham boardroom with representatives from the First Division’s 16 clubs, during which time the structure of National One/Premiership Two was the sole item of note on the agenda.
The union restated their desire to shake up level two and turn it into a full-time, properly branded and marketed off-shoot of the Guinness Premiership. Unfortunately that means reducing it to 12 teams and four squared, you see, does not go into a dozen.
To expedite this, they put forward two proposals. Option One which involved 22 league games, at least six play-off matches - be they for promotion or relegation - and sundry other Anglo-Welsh fixtures.
Option Two offered the same structure without the play-offs and therefore with fewer games. Both ideas were rejected - not unanimously - but rejected overwhelmingly nonetheless. As ever, an encounter between the RFU and a body of its member clubs broke up without agreement.
Actually, that is not strictly true. Both sides committed to meeting again, once the union’s drawing board has been consulted and the general principle of a shift to full-time gets a sufficient number of nods from both parties.
However, it’s not so much a devil in the detail as an entire Halloween Night’s worth of ghosts, ghouls and all manner of other scary apparitions.
Any attempt by the organisation trying to enforce full-time rugby on 12 clubs at various stages of readiness - with no extra, in fact less, central funding - is virtually doomed to failure.
Someone is going to take umbrage to something at some stage. Many clubs in National One have been trying to make a successful model for full-time rugby since 1995. Others already have one and others have no interest in developing one. With those three factions within First Division Rugby and a governance rule which means changes cannot be made without unanimity, the chances of an agreement in time for the 2009-10 season are slimmer than slim.
There are three very major issues to resolve beforehand and the RFU will spend some time considering how to finance their demand of a professional league, how to structure it and what to do to provide 30 meaningful fixtures a season.
But, just as loud as the FDR clubs shout for more money, the union wonders why they should foot the bill for a team watched by 300 people to turn itself into an all-singing, all-paying professional entity. The answer, put simply, is because it’s at the union’s behest. Many clubs are happy where they are, semi-pro and making a decent fist of a difficult division without bankrupting themselves.
If the union want to jeopardise that, they have to offer more financial guarantee and not some half-baked funding matrix in which the amount of central money goes down in the first season in the hope Sky Sports and Guinness will throw something into the pot and that the Welsh Rugby Union come through with some amorphous promise of a cross-border tournament.
If the RFU want a fully-professional National One, they should pay for it or develop better negotiating skills.