Kangaroos may backtrack on tour

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The Independent Online

The Kangaroos' tour to Britain, cancelled two days ago, could be resurrected if the Australian Rugby League accepts a revised plan for a stripped-down Test series. The visit was scrapped on Wednesday, when half the players selected said they were unwilling to travel because of fears for their safety from terrorism, but the signs last night were that desperate efforts to rescue the tour could succeed.

Maurice Lindsay, the former chief executive of the Rugby Football League and now chairman of Wigan, has emerged as the broker trying to salvage the situation. With the RFL's chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, on a pre-arranged trip to Ukraine, Lindsay has volunteered his services as a go-between and has been welcomed aboard by Walker, despite bad blood between the two in the past.

Lindsay spent much of the night on the phone to the ARL chairman, Colin Love, and believes that the Kangaroos may come after all, albeit on a truncated tour. "I have hammered the spiritual side of the game and the damage that this would cause," he said. "I think there is now a healthy chance that they will come."

The favoured option now is for a short tour, involving three Tests on consecutive weekends. The indications are that the 12 Australian players who wanted to tour originally would be available, joined by several who voted against but are now wavering.

The back-up proposal is for a party composed of Australian and New Zealand players to fly in to take over the fixtures. That would be an echo of the first-ever tour to Britain, as the "All-Golds" in 1908 were drawn from both countries. "I believe that either of those tours would attract support," said Lindsay, who was at a meeting with the RFL last night to work out the details.

Love said that Lindsay's proposals had been circulated to the ARL's board members and would be discussed over the next couple of days. "We had a major issue with the players about going, but they might be more comfortable with two and a half weeks rather than seven," he said.

It is doubtful whether any club games could be fitted into the new schedule and Lindsay says that two alternative scenarios – Britain going to Australia or facing a British-based "International Barbarians" side – have been ruled out. Nor could New Zealand raise a strong enough side in time.

However, he has suggested that the minnows of the international scene, Papua New Guinea, should be an option kept in reserve. "But the best result will be for Australia to come, even if it is a shortened tour," Lindsay said.

The signs are that the ARL is genuinely taken aback by the hostile reaction to its decision. Two-thirds of the e-mails to the Sydney Morning Herald's website were in favour of the tour taking place.

Of those who applauded the decision, some appeared to have ulterior motives. "The sport will be in its rightful place as a very, very minor club game in two states, plus a few towns in the north of England and New Zealand," exulted one.

Last night, that prospect had receded just a little.