Wallabies remain split on visit decision

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The Wallaby hierachy may be 99 per cent certain that rugby union's world champions' seven-match tour of Europe will go ahead as planned later this month, but Australia themselves are not nearly so convinced that flying over a war zone is the most sensible of ideas.

The Wallaby hierachy may be 99 per cent certain that rugby union's world champions' seven-match tour of Europe will go ahead as planned later this month, but Australia themselves are not nearly so convinced that flying over a war zone is the most sensible of ideas.

"There is some anxiety in the squad," said the national coach, Eddie Jones, yesterday. "I suppose you could say it's 50-50 as far as the players are concerned, so we're trying to make sure they have all the information before they make a decision."

George Gregan, the new Australian captain, and his senior players – the full-back Matthew Burke and the centre Daniel Herbert among them – were holding one-on-one meetings with their colleagues in an effort to establish a consensus.

Michael Foley, the experienced Queensland hooker who intends to join the coaching team at Bath as soon as the four-Test tour is over, is among those pressing for the trip to proceed. Stephen Larkham, the ACT Brumbies outside-half, is another in favour of travelling.

However, the Wallaby management has publicly agreed to support any player not inclined to make a long-haul flight during the international crisis in and around Afghanistan, and this enlightened stance could result in a number of withdrawals – especially now that the Australian rugby league team have set the tone by pulling out of their first full tour of Britain in seven years.

John O'Neill, the influential and outspoken chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union, was unaware of the rumblings emerging from the Wallaby training camp north of Sydney when he confidently announced that the tour was on. O'Neill, in Dublin for a meeting of the Rugby World Cup board, even took a sly dig at the rugby league fraternity by saying: "They are getting their information from exactly the same source as us – that is to say, the federal government. Unless the Australian Rugby League is hearing something we're not hearing, I see no reason why the tour should be called off."

Meanwhile, the New Zealand All Blacks will decide next week whether to fulfil their autumn fixtures, which include a trip to the Dubai Sevens – very much in doubt, it seems – and full Test matches in Scotland and Ireland. Some 200 leading players are being consulted by letter.

While David Rutherford, the chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, is campaigning hard for the Test team to fly out as scheduled on 7 November – "We've toured in similar situations in the past, and it's part of our duty to continue as normal and make sure sport does what we know it can do in celebration of humanity," he said, rather grandly – some leading players have their reservations.

"This trip may not be worth the risk," said Justin Marshall, the Canterbury scrum-half and former All Black captain. "Especially when you are aware that sporting teams are a pretty good target." The debate is far from over.

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