ARL forces Britons out of World Nines

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The organisers of the inaugural World Nines in Fiji have accused the Australian Rugby League of sabotage in forcing Gary Connolly and Martin Hall to pull out of the event, writes Dave Hadfield.

The Welsh captain, Hall, and Connolly, of England, withdrew from the tournament in Suva after being threatened with legal action if they played. Both players are contracted to play for the ARL after their current Wigan contracts end, and the move is the latest twist in an increasingly dirty war between the ARL and the rival Super League, which is running the Nines.

The controversy comes on the eve of a court decision on whether Super League can start in the Southern hemisphere this season, which is expected in Sydney today.

"Both players are deeply upset," the Super League chief executive, Britain's Maurice Lindsay, said. "Everybody involved - the players themselves, their team-mates and every other player in the 16-nation competition - is appalled at the obvious contempt shown by the ARL. Their action was clearly designed to disrupt and sabotage the competition."

With hindsight, selecting Hall and Connolly for the tournament ran the risk of provoking the ARL. "The implications are serious," Lindsay added. "It could be that if Wigan get through to the final of the World Club Championship at the end of the first Super League season, the ARL may interfere again and prevent Connolly, Hall and Jason Robinson from playing."

Even without Connolly, England won their three group matches to progress to the next stage of the competition. The Wigan winger, Rob Smythe, scored the only try in a 4-0 win over Italy, while Tonga were beaten 18-4 and Morocco 34-0.

Wales are also through after a last-minute try from Allan Bateman beat Fiji 8-6 in their final group match. Ireland are surprise qualifiers after beating Japan and France, but Scotland are out.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 25