England against Australia blocked

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
England were put in their place yesterday when the Four Home Unions committee blocked any possibility of Australia turning their European trip this autumn into a Grand Slam tour.

An announcement from Sydney proclaimed that a date had been fixed, 7 December, for the Australians to play England at Twickenham, the day already inked in for the traditional end of tour match against the Barbarians. With dates already agreed for games against the other three Home Unions it would have meant the first Grand Slam tour by the Wallabies since 1984, when they beat all four home countries.

But yesterday Ray Williams, chairman of the Four Home Unions committee, said he was "surprised and concerned" by Australia's announcement. Williams added: "A proposal was put to a recent meeting of the committee that Australia play England rather than the Barbarians. But the Barbarians' match against the touring team is a very special fixture, involving all four nations. It was agreed that it was not possible to change the international calendar at such short notice. The difficulties were insurmountable. More than 30,000 tickets have already been sold for the Barbarians match and we consider it is in the best interests of all four home unions that the present arrangement stands."

If the date had been agreed it would have presented England with four internationals on successive weekends since they are already committed to playing Italy on 23 November, the New Zealand Barbarians a week later as well as a Test against Argentina on 14 December.

Australia have already cancelled a game in order to play a Test at Cardiff on Friday, 22 November under floodlights. The game against Ireland in Dublin on 23 November has been switched to 30 November. n The England squad are to hold a meeting at the end of the week with the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs to decide on a policy about future relationships with the RFU and specifically whether to turn up at next week's training sessions.