ARU faces stoush over Deans' Lions plans

JIM MORTON
Last updated 23:08 16/01/2013

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The Australian Rugby Union is facing a backlash from traditional states Queensland and NSW over plans to quarantine Wallabies players three weeks before the British and Irish Lions Test series.

Coach Robbie Deans wants to prepare his Test squad in an extended camp leading into the June 22 series-opener against the Lions that would prevent Wallabies from playing for their Super Rugby teams.

A fortnight before the first Test, Queensland play the Lions in a potential blockbuster at Suncorp Stadium while the other four Australian sides play derby matches in their penultimate Super Rugby round.

The Reds are desperate to have stars Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James Horwill and Digby Ioane available in a full-strength side to attract a sell-out crowd of 52,000 on June 8 and take a big scalp.

Likewise, the NSW Waratahs could be stripped of more than half their starting team for what is likely to be a crucial match against the Western Force in Perth on June 9.

The Brumbies host the Melbourne Rebels the same weekend and would likely be without some of their headline acts but their losses would be cancelled out by the absence of Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Scott Higginbotham.

The ARU denied a decision had been reached as discussions were ongoing but some provincial officials don't expect any Wallabies to be released during the camp despite their protests at a high-performance meeting last year.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie and Waratahs counterpart Michael Cheika both told AAP they wanted their players available and felt they would be best served by being released to play.

McKenzie said the states had already compromised by allowing their top players to attend preceding Wallabies camps, including this week's logistics camp where Queensland sent 16 and NSW 13 of the 49 which assembled in Sydney.

"We're doing our best to help but we've still got a brand and competition to run," McKenzie told AAP. "There's the interest in Super Rugby and once you start pulling players out you devalue that.

"There was a lot of criticism last year about where the Australian teams sat in the competition and the relative strength of the local conference, so dismantling (teams doesn't help).

"You have to be mindful. Most businesses don't keep all their eggs in one basket."

While the Reds have a money-spinning sell-out at stake, Cheika believes NSW could be robbed of 10 Test players and be forced to field a second-string forward pack for their round 17 trip to Perth.

"We don't think it's right," he said. "That's two weeks out from the (first Test) and if the players don't play in that game then it's three weeks with no playing.

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"Match fitness is a very important thing."

The Lions, meantime, will play five matches in Australia leading into the Test series, including two with their full-strength side - against the Reds and Waratahs (June 15).

Cheika had no issues about releasing his Test stars for the tour match but hoped NSW's finals hopes wouldn't be jeopardised before that against a Force outfit which isn't expected to provide a Wallaby.

"For us it's a very important match in Super Rugby against a fellow Australian province," he said.

"It's a big thing because, for us, it could mean up to 10 players.

"It's the same for all teams but we're going to feel the heat a lot more (than the Reds) because we're playing a competition game."

 

The matches scheduled for Australia's Super Rugby teams when the Wallabies are expected to be quarantined in a training camp to prepare for the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

Friday night, June 7 - Brumbies v Rebels in Canberra
Saturday night, June 8 - Queensland Reds v Lions in Brisbane
Sunday, June 9 - Western Force v NSW Waratahs in Perth

*Super Rugby international break until July 12

1st Test: June 22 - Wallabies v Lions in Brisbane
2nd Test: June 29 - Wallabies v Lions in Melbourne
3rd Test: July 6 - Wallabies v Lions in Sydney

Other tour matches in Australia:

June 5 - Force v Lions in Perth
June 11 - Combined Country v Lions in Newcastle
June 18 - Brumbies v Lions in Canberra
June 25 - Rebels v Lions in Melbourne

- AAP

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