England tries to allay Celtic fears

England moved this week to repair the damage to their bid to host the 2007 World Cup after Australia revealed that they were in talks with England and South Africa to stage an annual Tri- series at Twickenham from 2004.

An admission by the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union John O’Neill that the three countries had been in regular negotiations this year has alarmed the three Celtic nations whose votes in the World Cup battle between England and France next month will be crucial.

The Celts depend heavily on the income they receive from playing one-off Tests against one of the three major southern hemisphere nations every November and any notion that England were part of a plan to strip them of those matches would drive them into the arms of the French.

The chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), Francis Baron, went on the offensive to reassure the Celts that England were not looking to marginalise them and make money at their expense. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he maintained.

“All we, along with Australia and South Africa, are looking to do is replace the International Rugby Board’s tour schedule, which is a legacy of the amateur days, with something more satisfactory.

“When John O’Neill talked about a series involving England, Australia and South Africa he was talking about only one element of our vision of the future. All the major touring countries, including Wales, Scotland and Ireland, would host series which would be held once a year in both hemispheres.
Our argument is that series would be more meaningful than one-off Tests and therefore more financially lucrative, which would work to the benefit of all.”

The World Cup vote promises to be close and the winner will need to secure 11 of the 21 votes available. The Scots and the Irish, who have two each, were already tilting towards France and could now be further alienated.

Wales were more likely to back England, but are unlikely to do so if they think England are trying to hive off the southern hemisphere nations for themselves. The RFU has worked assiduously on Argentina and Canada, who each have one vote, which with its own two would give them 10.—

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