France are invited to join Tri-Nations as game looks to go global

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The Independent Online

The Tri-Nations is set to expand to include a fourth team from 2009 following discussions between officials in Australia. A meeting of the international federation on the Gold Coast has agreed to ask France to submit a business plan to become part of a tournament to be held there and in Britain.

The current format is in its third season but will take a two-year break for next year's centenary Kiwi tour to Britain and for the 2008 World Cup. The game's major nations believe that the Tri-Nations has proved its worth and that France, helped by the Catalans Dragons' presence in Super League, will be ready to participate in three years.

At the same meeting, New Zealand submitted an apology and expressed their regret over playing the ineligible Nathan Fien in two matches. The Kiwis have since had two points deducted.

The federation accepted the apology and has decided against changing the procedures for checking that players are qualified to appear for a particular country. The chairman of the federation, Colin Love, said that it would remain the responsibility of individual nations to check the eligibility of their players.

The federation has also rewarded Fiji for becoming one of the first nations to qualify for the 2008 World Cup by authorising an international under-18 tournament there next year.

On the weekend when Great Britain try to reach the final of this year's Tri-Nations, what is effectively their second string, playing as England, meet Tonga in the final of the Federation Shield at Widnes tomorrow.

England have already beaten Tonga in the group stages of the four team tournament, but the Tongans followed that by going to France and winning 48-10 to qualify. They also have their best player, Harlequins' Solomon Haumono, back after he missed last weekend's game for his wedding.

"Anyone who goes to France and wins by that score deserves our respect," said the England coach, Paul Cullens, who believes that several of his players are on the verge of full Test honours. "There is no reason why several players in this young England side won't go on to play a serious part in the 2008 World Cup."

Great Britain were forced into two late changes for today's Test in Wellington, with Brian Carney and Sean O'Loughlin both pulled out after the final training session. Carney, who strained a hamstring against Australia last Saturday, suffered a recurrence of the injury and was replaced on the right wing by Leon Pryce, with Danny McGuire coming in at stand-off. Adrian Morley is back in the starting pack while Garreth Carvell has been called up on to the bench.