What's in store for '94: Rugby Union

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The Independent Online
THERE is only one thing in rugby as important as the 1995 World Cup and that is the 1994 England tour of South Africa. Whether the former goes ahead as planned depends on the latter's success, safety and simple taking place.

So in May and June England will carry the weight of the world and, to be perfectly honest, the fuss about their schedule and how many times they have to yo-yo between sea-level and 6,000 ft altitude is insignificant by comparison.

The real significance is that it will take place a short and very anxious fortnight after South Africa's first multi-racial general election. If the worst-case prediction, a post-electoral paroxysm of violence instigated by the losers, is fulfilled you would not give a South African World Cup a prayer.

The International Board has privately set June as its cut-off point. How ironic that it could well be England which would then pick up part of the tournament. Let us hope instead for peace and brotherhood, but the fact is this will be a completely different situation from, and infinitely more dangerous than, any faced by any of the many teams who have made incident-free post-boycott tours to South Africa.

As for the rugby, even with an amended itinerary this will be one of the hardest tours England have undertaken, principally because of the physical punishment their forwards will have to take from an endless series of gigantic provincial packs.

But it is certainly convenient for them that their final pre-World Cup tour should be to the prospective venue - more specifically useful, one would have thought, than Scotland's to Argentina, Wales's to the Pacific islands or Ireland's to Australia.

With that sort of summer ahead (and South Africa and France visiting New Zealand as well), how easy it is to forget that at the turn of the year there is half a British season still to play and a Five Nations' Championship about to start with France v Ireland and Wales v Scotland on 15 January.

And how easy to forget that when England get back from South Africa there will not be long before '94 ends with another half-a-season that brings the Springboks to Scotland and Wales. When the new England begin their championship in Scotland on 4 February will they continue what they started by beating the All Blacks?

With the fraught South African situation in mind, somehow it does not seem to matter all that much.