England to face Australia twice a year

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The Independent Online
While the long-running saga of the Five Nations row drags on, England are to play Australia twice a year from 1997 until at least 2003. This should help them to compete against southern hemisphere countries.

Last night Lawrence Dallaglio, who is tipped as Will Carling's successor as England captain, said: "We play Five Nations rugby year after year and never get to test ourselves regularly against southern hemisphere teams. Now that we can play Australia on a regular basis it leaves us no excuse when it comes to the World Cup."

Twickenham endorsed that view with Tony Hallett, the Rugby Football Union secretary, saying: "This is just what the players and the country want to see us doing, namely attempting to keep up our competitive edge against the southern hemisphere countries. This arrangement has no relevance to the current situation regarding the future of the Five Nations tournament."

In fact, however, the move strengthens the RFU's position in the protracted negotiations. If no solution can be found, there is every chance of Twickenham resigning itself to exile and setting up an alternative tournament involving not just Australia, but also South Africa and France and possibly Italy as well.

The Australian Rugby Union, who made the announcement, said the matches would be played in July and November each year, but plans to play England in a one-off Test at Twickenham at the end of their tour this December have been dropped. John O'Neill, the ARU chief executive, said: "The Board considered the one-off Test was not achievable due to the long-standing commitment to play the Barbarians at Twickenham on 7 December." But the ARU did agree to add a single Test against Wales during their European tour this autumn, subject to Ireland agreeing to bring forward by a week their Test on 30 November, thus freeing that date.

Scotland have cleared the way for Jim Telfer, their director of rugby, to become assistant coach on the Lions' tour of South Africa next year under the former Scotland coach, Ian McGeechan. Meanwhile, the Scottish Rugby Union have appointed Arthur Hastie, 61, as Scotland manager, in succession to Telfer, who is to concentrate on his directorial duties.

n Wales will field two uncapped flankers when they face the Barbarians in Cardiff on Saturday. Kingsley Jones, the Ebbw Vale captain, replaces the injured Hemi Taylor, joining Martyn Williams, of Pontypridd.