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Stern Tests await Australia in 2008

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France and Ireland will provide the first genuine tests for Australia’s new rugby coach when the Wallabies’ domestic Test programme kicks off next year.

Australia’s busy 2008 schedule, released on Thursday, begins with a one-off Test against the Irish in Melbourne on June 14.

That game is succeeded by two Tests against current Six Nations champions France on June 28 and July 5 in Sydney and Brisbane respectively.

Australia’s Tri-Nations challenge will commence against South Africa in Perth on July 19.

The Wallabies may be under the guidance of their first-ever foreign coach next year, with New Zealander Robbie Deans the front-runner to succeed incumbent John Connolly.

Connolly, who has endured a chequered stint in charge, will step down at the end of the World Cup.

If Deans is appointed, he will face his native country three times next year.

The Bledisloe Cup will revert to a best-of-three series from 2008 following criticism the old format was weighted heavily in favour of the reigning champion.

With the exception of 2006, the annual Trans-Tasman showdown has been played over two games since 1999, meaning the holder only had to win one match to be assured of retaining the trophy.

Four times in that period the series finished level at one win apiece.

Australia will host two Bledisloe Cup matches next year, in Sydney and Brisbane, with Auckland’s Eden Park the venue for the second match of the series.

Australian Rugby Union managing director John O’Neill said the support of Queensland rugby fans over the years ensured the Suncorp Stadium would continue to stage major international matches.

“Brisbane has long proven itself a loyal rugby heartland and deservedly will host one of our two Australian Bledisloe Cup matches in 2008,” he said.

The focus will then turn to the annual Tri-Nations series, and O’Neill believes Subiaco Oval in Perth is the perfect venue for the Wallabies to open their campaign.

“Both the Wallabies and the Springboks share a lot of support in the west and that tribalism always brings out the best in both teams,” he said.

In all, the Wallabies will play six domestic Tests in 2008.

“2008 promises to be very exciting and particularly challenging for the Wallabies, who will be playing under the direction of a new national coach,” said O’Neill.

 

365 Digital

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