Australian demands put RFU on spot

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Australia's insistence on turning their European tour into a Grand Slam has put even greater pressure on the Rugby Football Union to sort out their differences with the English clubs.

The threatened boycott by the players of next Wednesday's training session at Bisham Abbey is not helping the coach, Jack Rowell, to prepare his squad for the Test against Italy on 23 November. But if the RFU give in to the entreaties of the Australian Rugby Union, who have offered two alternative dates for an extra Test - on 2 or 16 November - then Rowell will need every spare moment. So desperate are the Australians for the fixture that they are reported to have threatened to cancel the Test against Wales in December unless England are added to the tour.

The ARU chief executive, John O'Neill, admitted there were financial considerations behind the push to play England. "We're not ashamed to say there are financial objectives. I just think these people need a big jolt. We all face enormous challenges in the professional era."

There was a glimmer of hope for them with Bob Weighill, secretary of the Four Home Unions Tours committee, saying yesterday: "Every effort is being made to resolve the matter of whether an England v Australia fixture can be slotted into the tour programme. A number of options are under consideration."

English Professional Rugby Union Clubs came under fire from Scotland yesterday. The Scottish Rugby Union has called a meeting of its First and Second Division clubs for 9 October to discuss whether its players and clubs should join Epruc.

In a letter signed by its president, Fred McLeod, the SRU warns of the "fatal attraction" in joining Epruc's breakaway, describing the move as one which "cares only for the bottom line of English club rugby, and most certainly cares nothing for Scottish rugby". The SRU's concern was heightened by a letter from Mike Smith, Epruc director and Saracens' chief executive, who does not believe the Scottish, Welsh and Irish clubs will be "box office".

The SRU insisted in their letter that they believed their differences with the Scottish clubs can be resolved, adding: "[The SRU] cannot, and will not, be held to ransom by English clubs and we have an overriding responsibility to warn clubs in Scotland that the inevitable consequence of accepting Epruc's offer would be... the ruination of club rugby in Scotland."