Monday, November 03, 2008

Antipodeans in boycott threat

Australia and New Zealand unhappy at under-strength touring sides
Last updated: 31st October 2008

Australia and New Zealand have revealed they will consider scrapping future European tours if northern hemisphere nations continue to send under-strength teams Down Under for summer Test series.

Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill and his New Zealand counterpart Steve Tew have vowed to raise the subject at a forthcoming meeting of leading rugby unions on November 11 amid concerns over the negative impact upon crowd-figures and the profile of the international game.

The Antipodean nations have raised the threat in the hope of enforcing the Woking conference agreement, which demands countries select their strongest available team.

France, England and Wales have all been guilty of sending weakened touring parties in recent times, although the injury-hit England squad that toured New Zealand this year was the best available.

Regardless, O'Neil is hoping the severe stance they are hinting at imposing will cause a rethink in the northern hemisphere.
"Our point of leverage is that we don't go north," he explained."The integrity of international Test match rugby relies on everybody playing by the rules. If there comes a point in time where the northern hemisphere do not comply with the regulations, do not send their best teams south and we suffer the consequences of a down-turn in the gate and in the popularity of the game, you might say 'don't come in June and we will come north if you pay us'."

The Australian went on to quote figures from the International Rugby Board to support his argument, revealing that 87% of June Tests are won by the southern hemisphere while the northern hemisphere win 37% of the November Tests.

"I would hate to see international Test matches turn into friendlies," he continued."Those statistics tell you the risk for the games in our part of the world is that maybe they are maybe regarded as being no better than friendlies."

Defining moment

France have already offered guarantees to New Zealand that their 2009 touring squad will be full strength, but that Test series could well prove to be a defining moment for the future of the international schedule.

"Our only real leverage is to say we are not going to come and fill your stadiums for you unless you do the same or you pay us a decent share of the revenue that is generated," Tew added."We thought we got an agreement over Woking but then discovered the French were unable to honour it was disappointing. We now have a number of guarantees from them that they will turn up next year with a full strength side. I will wait and see. They are under no illusion that we are watching with considerable interest what happens next June what happens when they come out to our place."

Any boycott of European tours would not come into effect until after the next World Cup, with New Zealand already committed to playing England in November 2010.

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