Australia approached to mark Olympic centenary
PA Sport
January 30, 2008

Australia have been approached by the British Olympic Association to play the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium on December 6.

The proposed match would form part of the BOA's programme of events to celebrate the centenary of the first London Olympic Games.

And Australia, who won the rugby gold medal at the 1908 Olympics, are open to the idea of extending their autumn tour to include one more match.

The Wallabies are already scheduled to play New Zealand in Hong Kong and then Italy, France and England, while a fifth Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium has also been mooted.

Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said: ``It's shaping up as quite an exciting tour.''

The BOA insist negotiations are ``ongoing'' over potential opponents for Australia - some reports down under had suggested the Wallabies would play England - but it is believed a Barbarians fixture is being lined up.

Twickenham is still in the running to host the match but the BOA would prefer it to be at Wembley, which was the Olympic Stadium in 1948.

Even if the fixture is confirmed there remain significant hurdles to overcome - not least the fact that December 6-7 is designated as a Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup weekend.

Premier Rugby will not release any England-based players for a Barbarians fixture that weekend - and it is difficult to see leading clubs in other countries doing so when they are in European action.

However, the Barbarians would have all the other touring countries to select from, with New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and the Pacific Islands all playing Tests in Europe during November.

The match would also need to be sanctioned by the International Rugby Board, but the world governing body would welcome the chance to strengthen links between rugby and the Olympics.

Rugby was last an Olympic sport in 1924 - the United States are the reigning champions - and the IRB have been campaigning for its return in the abbreviated form of Sevens.

The earliest rugby could be included is at the 2016 Games, with the International Olympic Committee to vote on it next year.

The BOA's plans to mark the centenary of the 1908 Games also include a polo match and tug-of-war, both of which were Olympic sports at the time.

France were the defending Olympic rugby champions in 1908 but withdrew from the event leaving Australia and Great Britain, represented by county champions Cornwall, as the only participants.

Australia, who had beaten Cornwall earlier in the year at the start of a 31-match tour, won the gold medal with a 32-3 victory.

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