Australia launches fightback against Packer

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The Australian Rugby Union has increased hopes of keeping leading players from defecting to Kerry Packer's proposed World Rugby Corporation after informal discussions with national squad members in Sydney yesterday.

According to local reports, one player, among a majority of players said to have committed themselves to WRC, indicated a change of mind as a result of the meeting. "They talked a lot of sense," the player, who asked not to be named, said. "It was a really good meeting."

Players had reportedly been upset by what they believe was an unnecessary delay by the ARU on settling contract terms following last month's signing of a huge television deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. But according to sources, the ARU impressed players in a two-hour question and answer session Sunday.

While both parties agreed to keep details confidential, veteran No 8 Tim Gavin said the Wallabies were generally happy with the way the meeting went. "A lot of it was obviously confidential, but everyone seemed happy," Gavin said.

"It gave us plenty to think about. We'll be talking to the ARU over the next fortnight and go from there."

Frank Bunce, one of the key players in New Zealand's 34-23 win over Australia in Sydney on Saturday, said his team-mates intended to move as one when they decided whether to stay with establishment rugby or defect to the rebel organisation.

Gavin said the Wallabies were thinking along the same lines. "I'm sure we'd like to stick together," he said.

Phil Kearns, the Australian captain, remained coy on the issue, saying: "We had a good meeting with the ARU and apart from that we've got no comment."

The ARU president, Phil Harry, said no time limit would be set on players signing contracts. "We are setting no time limit on that, there'll be nothing to sign until the time comes when they are ready to sign. We had a very productive meeting and now we are proceeding with our programme."

Yesterday's developments followed an attack on the WRC by the ARU chief executive, Bruce Hayman, at a dinner to mark Saturday's 100th Test between Australia and New Zealand.

In front of almost 1,000 guests including numerous former Wallaby and All Black greats, Hayman said the rugby traditions extended much deeper than money could buy.

"You can't replace 100 years of fierce rivalry and national pride with created teams which lack support and purpose and which are motivated only by the dollar," Hayman said.

Hayman said rugby had survived the threat from rugby league for 90 years and the latest raids from Super League.

"The new evils are Super League and the move by the Rugby World Corporation to put in place a world-wide rebel circus.

"Rugby has over 100 years of development and tradition. But in realising that it must change if it is to prosper in the future."