Leading English clubs are poised for a legal battle with the Rugby Football Union after Twickenham top brass decided to withhold £120,000 in Lions' compensation.

The row which has overshadowed England's domestic season has escalated following yesterday's RFU management board meeting.

The RFU say they will pay Guinness Premiership clubs an agreed £15,000 per player for those English Lions "who have been given the full and agreed 11-week rest and recuperation period."

A total of 20 English players toured New Zealand with the Lions this summer, meaning a £300,000 compensation package being agreed by Lions bosses.

According to the RFU's take on events though, it is claimed three clubs and eight Lions played full games (classed as more than 40 minutes) ahead of schedule.

The players in question are Sale Sharks quartet Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson and Andrew Sheridan, Leicester pair Martin Corry and Julian White, plus Wasps duo Matt Dawson and Simon Shaw.

It means £60,000 is being held back from Sale, with £30,000 each owing to Leicester and Wasps.

According to the RFU, Cueto, White, Dawson and Shaw should not have played full games until September 24, with September 17 the return date for Robinson, Sheridan, Hodgson and England captain Corry.

However Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation representing England's 12 Premiership clubs, does not accept that an agreement has ever been in place covering a rest period for their English Lions.

And that stance has now hardened, with legal action to recover the money now a probability in the latest row to scar English rugby's often difficult ten-year professional era.