O’Neill: game could split in two

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The Independent Online

Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O’Neill has warned the game risks being split in half and played under separate rules if northern hemisphere countries refuse to embrace the Experimental Law Variations.

O’Neill has returned from an International Rugby Board meeting in Hong Kong furious that his counterparts in England, Ireland and Wales have rejected plans to trial the ELVs.

The ARU boss did not rule out the code being played under two different sets of rules if an agreement cannot be reached.

“You’d hate to think we’d end up in a situation of two games (but) it could happen,” O’Neill said.

“The last two weekends we’ve seen the Springboks play the All Blacks in two wonderful Test matches and we’ve seen Australia versus France and Australia versus Ireland and the All Blacks versus England under the old laws.

“You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out which game is a far more impressive spectacle.

“We’re simply saying to England, Wales and Ireland - and to the IRB - give it a fair go.

“To sit back and say ‘no, we’re not trialling them’ is not in the best interests of the world game.”

“No one wants to see two games but unless there is a degree of reasonableness here (it could happen),” O’Neill added.

The ARU boss followed up with a veiled threat that major southern hemisphere nations may opt out of future World Cups if the new rules are not adopted on a permanent basis.

“If we want rugby to continue to grow as a true international game second only to football, we’ve got to move away from this southern hemisphere-northern hemisphere battle lines,” O’Neill said.

“It won’t get us anywhere. What would a World Cup be if Australia, New Zealand and South Africa didn’t play in it? There’s got to be a proper meeting of minds around the betterment of the game.

“I’m urging England, Wales and Ireland to find competitions, trial the sanctions and then we’ve got something to talk about.

“Until you’ve actually had a universal trial of all the ELVs, you can’t actually make an informed judgment.

“It’s not about one part of the world getting an advantage over a different part of the world - it’s what’s in the best interests of rugby.

“We’re putting our hands across the water and saying let’s get to a point where we can have proper discussion.”

O’Neill dared the IRB to order recalcitrant nations to adopt the ELVs on a trial basis.

“I think the IRB is on side (but) we’re seeing a tremendous test of the IRB’s leadership to stare down England, Wales and Ireland and to force them to find competitions in which to trial (the laws),” he said.

“They’re saying their marketplace has never seen them but doesn’t like them.

“We’re getting into this silly, combative conversation where you’ve got a number of home unions saying our game is in great shape, why should we help you just because your game is in trouble.

“Our game is not in trouble. Ultimately it will catch up with the northern hemisphere then one day the fans will say this is boring - penalty shootouts are not what we’ve come to see.”

O’Neill says rugby is running out of time to implement the new laws, with consensus needed by the end of 2009 for the new regulations to be used in the 2011 World Cup.