Rugby Union: Australia propose England challenge

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The Independent Online
Rugby could end up with its own soap - home and away Tests against Australia - according to reports from the Southern Hemisphere. Australia are required, under their contract with Channel Seven, in which BSkyB's owner, Rupert Murdoch, has a 15 per cent stake, to play six Tests at home each season and are proposing annual home and away matches against England to help them meet that commitment.

They would want to play England in Sydney or Brisbane in July, and at Twickenham in November, but it remains to be seen how keen the Rugby Football Union will be on introducing extra fixtures. Last night the RFU put a damper on the possibility of England's top clubs setting up a new tournament with South Africa's provincial teams.

Peter Wheeler, the Leicester chief executive and a key figure in the English Professional Rugby Union Clubs, is due to meet Louis Luyt, the Republic's head of rugby, in South Africa today. The tournament is though to be on the agenda, but Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, said: "At the moment we have a very cluttered season, which has already suffered its first casualty with the postponement of the Anglo-Welsh challenge match at Twickenham between Bath and Neath. We should be consolidating the fixture list, not adding to it."

Of his meeting with Luyt, Wheeler said in a newspaper interview: "We are going to discuss a range of issues. In view of all the uncertainty it is just as well that we find out what other opportunities may exist." He called for a meeting with the RFU as a matter of urgency because he felt there were still a lot of issues to be sorted out.

He had said in the interview that Twickenham had refused to provide full insurance cover for England players on international duty and as a result some clubs were threatening to prevent their players appearing for their country. Hallett refuted that suggestion. "The insurance needs only to be ratified between players and club officials." he said. "We have agreed with the clubs a formula of pro rata cover, which means the RFU will pay his insurance for the 38 days when a man is on England duty. The insurance has been complicated by possible loss of earnings, now that we are in a professional game. I talked to Peter Wheeler about this and I believe he was given the full, proposed way of doing this before he left for South Africa."

RFU officials were said to be irritated they had not received a promised letter from the Five Nations committee detailing the reaction to their proposals on the broadcasting issue. They were promised it within 48 hours of Tuesday's meeting of the other four members of the committee.

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