Rugby Union: England give Italians chance to make up the `Six Nations'

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The Independent Online
IT TOOK them far too long to get round to it, but England finally fell in line with the rest of northern hemisphere rugby yesterday by officially inviting Italy to the Five Nations party. The oldest international championship in the game will become the Six Nations from the spring of the year 2000 - a new tournament for a new millenium.

Rugby Football Union council members agreed unanimously to extend the competition. France, Ireland and Scotland, all of whom had recently been beaten by Italy, confirmed their support at a meeting in January, as did Wales, who secured a narrow three-point victory over the new boys only a fortnight ago.

Vernon Pugh, a Five Nations Comittee member, congratulated Giancarlo Dondi, the president of the Italian Rugby Union. "This must be a very proud day for him," said Pugh. "We were all very impressed by the professional and persuasive arguments made by the Ital- ians both on and off the field."

The deserving Italians will be the first Five Nations newcomers since France, who were granted a place in 1910.

England's top clubs reached agreement with the Rugby Football Union yesterday over plans to extend Allied Dunbar Premiership One by two clubs to 14 next season. With no relegation this season, the news comes as a major boost to Bristol and London Irish, who currently occupy the bottom two positions in Premiership One.