Rugby Union: England looking to southern hemisphere for regular fixtures

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The Independent Online
Moves to stage regular matches between England and southern hemisphere sides are well advanced according to the Rugby Football Union secretary, Tony Hallett. "We have sought to broaden our fixture list," he said, "and so there are ongoing discussions which are very positive."

This follows an admission by John O'Neill, the Australian board's chief executive, that the two governing bodies have been discussing an annual fixture. But Hallett insisted that the talks had nothing to do with recent threats to expel England from the Five Nations' Championship for negotiating a separate television deal with BSkyB. "These talks have been going on for some time. They were initiated by Don Rutherford [the RFU technical director] two, perhaps three years ago," he said. "In addition to Australia, we are also talking to New Zealand and South Africa. I was in discussions with the New Zealanders last week and I was talking to the South Africans recently."

The Australian talks seem to be well advanced, with O'Neill admitting in an interview on BBC Radio Five Live: "The discussion has been driven by our mutual desire to play each other more regularly. The Wallabies are very keen to play England on an annual basis at least and we have progressed these discussions a fair way down the track."

As New Zealand are due in England in 1997, the Australians may fill the vacant Twickenham slot on 30 November this year. Hallett said that the date would be filled by southern hemisphere opponents and that the fixture would be announced shortly.

The flare-up with the Five Nations committee over the RFU's independent deal with BSkyB could lead to more contact with countries below the equator, with O'Neill hinting at other possibilities. "In the last week or so we've had news about the potential for England to be expelled from the Five Nations," O'Neill said. "That puts a whole new dimension on it which we really haven't addressed at this stage." Hallett endorsed that, saying: "Our talks have nothing to do with recent issues."

Australia will award new caps to winger Ben Tune and scrum-half Sam Payne in the second Test against Wales in Sydney next Saturday. They have made three changes to the side who won the first Test 56-25, with Michael Brial coming in at No 8.

AUSTRALIA (v Wales, Sydney, 22 June): M Burke; B Tune, J Roff, T Horan, D Campese; P Howard, S Payne; R Harry, M Caputo, E McKenzie, G Morgan, J Eales (capt), O Finegan, M Brial, D Wilson.

John Mitchell, the former All Blacks captain, was yesterday named the new player-coach of Courage League One club Sale. Mitchell takes over from Paul Turner, a former Wales stand-off, on a three-year contract.

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