England set for 'Le Crunch' battle over World Cup

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The Independent Online

Oval-ball arguments between England and France are lively enough when "Le Crunch" is confined to the pitch, but the age-old rivalry and mutual cross-Channel suspicion is likely to reach new heights when the two countries compete for the biggest financial prize in the game: the hosting of the 2007 World Cup.

Oval-ball arguments between England and France are lively enough when "Le Crunch" is confined to the pitch, but the age-old rivalry and mutual cross-Channel suspicion is likely to reach new heights when the two countries compete for the biggest financial prize in the game: the hosting of the 2007 World Cup.

The Rugby Football Union is thought to be preparing a strong individual bid for the event, after staging one pool and both semi-finals of last year's tournament, but the Tricolores are willing to match whatever Twickenham puts on the table.

Bernard Lapasset, the French Rugby Federation president, confirmed that his country would challenge for the competition, possibly in conjunction with the Italians. On the face of it, the French have an almost unanswerable case: England staged the 1991 tournament as well as several key fixtures last year and, anyway, the range of stadiums on the other side of the Channel is significantly better than anything the RFU is likely to offer.

Meanwhile, some 700 black and coloured players from South Africa are to be retrospectively honoured as Springboks under a diplomatic initiative by union officials. Anthony Mackaiser, of the South African Rugby Football Union, said that those non-white players denied the chance of representing their country during the apartheid era would receive blazers and ties at ceremonies around the country

Major touring sides in the 1970s and 80s habitually played non-white invitation teams. John Pullin's England team broke new ground by taking on a black African XV in Port Elizabeth as far back as 1972. However, it was not until 1981 that Errol Tobias became the first non-white Springbok. Attempts to break down the old barriers, however, are still undermined by public disputes. Only this week, the Golden Lions and the Blue Bulls were accused of flouting regulations governing quotas of non-white players.

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