Rugby League: Connolly and O'Connor fit for Ireland

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The Independent Online
GARY CONNOLLY and Terry O'Connor, Wigan's Great Britain internationals, have won their battle to be fit to play for Ireland against Scotland in the last game of the professional season tonight.

The two, both carrying knocks from the series against New Zealand but eager to play, take their places in the line-up at Partick Thistle. Shaun Edwards, however, is ruled out.

The availability of second-generation Irishmen of the calibre of Connolly and O'Connor means that Cliff Eccles, the Salford prop who has just signed for Swinton, and Lee Child drop to the bench, alongside Conor O'Sullivan.

Tonight's winners will play Wales in Cardiff to kick off an expanded competition next April. An Emerging England side will also be involved and all four home nations will compete as separate entities in the World Cup in 2000.

Small beer as it is at this stage, there are signs that the rugby union authorities are nervous about the potential of this competition.

The Scottish Rugby Union this week pulled the plug on an advert for the game, which they had earlier accepted for one of their match programmes.

Plans to publicise the league fixture in Glasgow earlier this week were stymied when the SRU called a hastily-arranged press conference with the South African tourists in Edinburgh at the same time.

"That could just be a coincidence," said the Rugby League's spokesman, John Huxley. "But, given the spirit of co-operation elsewhere, it is very regrettable that they felt they could not carry an advert. It won't prevent the growth of rugby league north of the border, but it is an irritation."

Scotland promote Bradford's Simon Knox to the starting line-up, with his team-mate, Nathan Graham, moving to centre. Otherwise the team is the one that lost narrowly in France last week.

As one season ends, the pre-amble to the next one begins - and there was also a Celtic dimension to the draw for the first round of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup, held at Manchester Airport last night.

The Irish champions, the Northside Saints from Dublin, have been drawn away to the Yorkshire team Siddal while the Scottish Border Eagles are at home to Wath Brow. Ellenborough Rangers, the Cumbrian side who beat Bramley and Hunslet to reach the last 16 last year, are away to Dewsbury Moor.

St Helens have appointed John Myler, previously on the staff at Warrington, as an assistant coach to Ellery Hanley for next season, while Leeds are to announce what they term "a major signing" today.

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