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Hong Kong, Wembley on Wallabies agenda

By Adrian Warren 29/01/2008 07:40:22 PM Comments (0)

The Wallabies are set to play matches in Hong Kong and at Wembley Stadium later this year, while Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill has revealed a mid-week Test could form part of a revamped domestic program.

O'Neill has described the established season schedule as "sporadic" and said it was not a sensible structure for Australia and he wanted a more seamless program.

He envisaged an expansion of the Super tournament to one and a half or two rounds, though he stressed Australia could not afford to establish any more franchises at present.

While any kind of expansion would have to be agreed upon by both South Africa and New Zealand, O'Neill believed the Super tournament could run into June and July, when the inbound Tests are normally played.

Pointing to the rugby league model where players back up for their club just a few days after playing State Of Origin, O'Neill suggested inbound Tests could be played in midweek during an expanded Super competition.

O'Neill also foreshadowed the loosening of Australian player eligibility regulations for the Super 14, by suggesting that players from South Pacific nations could be enticed to play locally rather than in Europe.

He also suggested that players from other SANZAR countries might one day also represent Australian Super teams.

While the Wallabies spring tour schedule has yet to be finalised, O'Neill revealed it could include six international games plus mid-week matches.

Australia is already committed to playing England, Italy and France.

O'Neill said a proposed match against New Zealand in Hong Kong had also been formally approved by the IRB, though the ARU was not in a position yet to announce it formally.

He said his deputy Matt Carrol and a couple of other ARU officials were presently in Hong Kong working with local and New Zealand officials to complete the planning preparations and financial arrangements for the match.

O'Neill said there was also the possibility of a trans-Tasman Test in Asia becoming a semi-regular fixture with Tokyo another potential host.

He said it was yet to be determined whether the Hong Kong fixture would be part of the Bledisloe Cup program.

O'Neill said there was also the possibility of a match against the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium, and Wales had also requested a Test against the Wallabies.

"I haven't spoken to (new Wallabies coach) Robbie Deans about this, but there's a possibility of mid-week games, which would make sense if you are going to play six Test matches," O'Neill said.

"You might be able to take a slightly expanded squad, particularly up and coming youngsters, there's some bright young talent coming through that might benefit from that exposure.

"It's shaping up as quite an exciting tour."

O'Neill said Australia was fortunate New Zealand had decided not to appoint Deans as their national coach, describing the Kiwi as an exceptional coach and an exceptional bloke.

"Obviously we're excited about his coaching ability, but I'm equally if not more excited about his style and manner and what he's going to bring in terms of culture," he said.

"I think we do need to reinvigorate and reestablish the Wallaby culture.

"He's also a very good selector and I think great coaches tend to be great selectors and on top of that he is a very good man manager."

O'Neill said a final decision on the Wallabies assistant coaches would be made in the next two weeks.

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