Irish grievances raise the stakes

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The Independent Online

Ireland have stepped up the psychological warfare leading up to Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against England at Headingley by claiming that the organisers have deliberately made their task as difficult as possible.

Ireland have stepped up the psychological warfare leading up to Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against England at Headingley by claiming that the organisers have deliberately made their task as difficult as possible.

The Irish yesterday complained that they should, as group winners, have played their next match in Ireland. "There's been a lot of forward planning which didn't include Ireland," said their coach, Andy Kelly. They added that the team has not even been allowed to be based in Leeds before the Headingley showdown.

The French have also put in a bid for the quarter-finals, offering at least half-seriously to switch their match against New Zealand to Toulouse if the bad weather in the north of England, which necessitated moving the opening game of the women's world series from Hull to Orrell last night, continues. The offer will not be taken up, but it is a sign of the sudden burst of French confidence.

France are to put their 20 leading players on central contracts - a similar concept to that in operation in English cricket - to keep them safe from the clutches of rugby union. One of the players who has impressed in this tournament, the Toulouse centre, Jen Emmanuel Cassin, is interesting Hull. The club's chief executive, Shane Richardson, also watched Tonga's centre David Fisi'iahi in the match against Papua New Guinea on Monday night but it is Cassin who has become his main target.

Wakefield Trinity, who almost went out of business last season in the throes of a financial crisis, have confirmed the English-born but Queensland-nurtured John Harbin as their new coach. He will have an all-English back-up staff of Gary Price, John Thompson and Mick Hughes.

Trinity have also signed two overseas players with experience at the top end of Super League, in Bradford's Australian utility player Justin Brooker and St Helens' Grand Final-winning prop Julian O'Neill, the New Zealander who has been forced out of the club by salary-cap restrictions.

The South Africa captain Jamie Bloem has escaped punishment for criticising the referee, Steve Clark, after his side's 56-6 defeat by France on Sunday. He had claimed after the match that it had been like playing against 14 men.

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