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O'Neill eyeing Wallabies Grand Slam tour

By Adrian Warren 17/03/2008 07:38:27 PM Comments (0)

Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill says there is a "50-50" chance of the Wallabies making a Grand Slam tour of the United Kingdom next year and has forecast a potential $15 million turnaround in his organisation's financial fortunes.

The ARU received a boost with Qantas extending its naming-rights sponsorship of the Wallabies until the end of the 2011 World Cup campaign.

O'Neill confirmed a six-match Spring Tour schedule comprising matches against New Zealand in Hong Kong (Nov 1), Italy at a venue to be confirmed (Nov 8), England at Twickenham (Nov 15), France in Paris (Nov 22), Wales in Cardiff (Nov 29) and the Barbarians at London's Wembley Stadium on December 3.

The match against the Barbarians, which will commemorate the centenary of Australia's Olympic success in London, will probably represent the first major rugby fixture played at the rebuilt stadium.

O'Neill said the matches against New Zealand, the first offshore Bledisloe Cup fixture to be played, Wales and the Barbarians would be income-producing outings for Australia worth an estimated $3 to $4 million.

While the ARU is set to announce a deficit of around $8.5 million for last year, O'Neill said it was likely to be back in the black for this year.

"It will be a small surplus, but given that last year included the IRB grant of $7 million from the World Cup, it's a $15 million turnaround in 2008," O'Neill said.

With Australia playing 15 internationals and New Zealand 16 Tests this year, O'Neill said 2008 was "a bit of dash for cash this year" after all the major nations experienced financial difficulties in a World Cup season.

He said the renewal of the Qantas sponsorship was not only significant in monetary terms, but also as a vote of confidence in the Wallabies following their disappointing World Cup campaign.

"It is a bit of leap of faith that they have stuck with us and all of our sponsors have," Owen said.

O'Neill revealed he had commenced preliminary negotiations with the Rugby Football Union about a possible Test against England in early November 2009.

The game would enable the Wallabies to conduct their first Grand Slam tour since 1984, when they won all four Tests.

O'Neill said that while Australia were "getting on famously with England at the moment", he stressed there was still potential stumbling blocks to be overcome as England had already filled the three dates in their November Test window agreed with the country's Premiership clubs.

"November 7 is a date when we could play (England), but it's outside the window," he said.

"All we're saying is can we work together to get a dispensation for that game.

"I'd say it's only 50-50 at this stage, but it's worth a shot."

Australia is already scheduled to visit Ireland, Wales and Scotland next year as part of the IRB Test rota.

O'Neill also revealed former Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen would visit Europe at the end of this month to lobby representatives of the Six Nations countries over the use of the Experimental Law Variations in the northern hemisphere, prior to their forum on that issue.

2008 Spring Tour schedule:-

Saturday 1 November Australia v New Zealand Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong Saturday 8 November Italy v Australia TBC Saturday 15 November England v Australia Twickenham, London Saturday 22 November France v Australia Stade de France, Paris Saturday 29 November Wales v Australia Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Wednesday 3 December Barbarians v Australia Wembley Stadium, London

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