The Wallabies have agreed to host France in a one-off Test next year after receiving an iron-clad guarantee that Les Bleus will field a full-strength line-up this time around.
The two-Test series in Australia this winter threatened to degenerate into farce after the French arrived with just one player who featured in their 2007 Rugby World Cup semi-final loss to England.
Most of France’s frontline players were still involved in their domestic Top 14 competition but, after receiving an assurance that there will be no repeat of the mass no-show, ARU chief John O’Neill agreed to add Les Bleus to a bumper 2009 program of home Tests for the Wallabies.
The Wallabies’ domestic schedule also includes two Tests against Italy and the annual Tri-Nations matches against the Springboks and All Blacks.
The Wallabies will open their 2009 international campaign with Tests against Italy in Canberra on June 13 and Melbourne on June 20 before tackling the French at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium the following Saturday.
“There are some exciting elements to next year’s program and a guarantee from the French that they will head to Australia with a full complement of drawcard players is a breakthrough for rugby fans to savour,” O’Neill said.
“There is no point trying to sugar coat the reality; northern hemisphere countries have not helped us in our domestic market in recent seasons by sending touring teams that have clearly been under-strength.
“That will not be the case in 2009.
“We have a cast-iron promise from the French that they will be bringing their best team out, and that means we can all expect a thrilling Test in Sydney.
“Italy will be bringing their best for the first two Tests and then come the French, who have consistently been one of the strongest teams in the world over a long period of time.
“When they are in full flow, there are few national teams that can match the French for flair.
“We look forward to their visit with confidence; the Sydney Test should be a gripping spectacle.
“It is the way international rugby should be showcased to the world, with both teams prepared to protect the integrity of Test rugby and ensure the contest is best against the best.”
Canberra Stadium will host the opening international of the season when the Wallabies play in the national capital for the first time since beating Argentina 32-25 in 2000.
“Taking a Wallabies Test back to Canberra for the first time since 2000 means we are deliberately reaching out to our fans in what is a heartland region for the game,” O’Neill said.
The Wallabies will also embark on a six-match Tri-Nations campaign against New Zealand and South Africa and open their quest for a first title since 2001 against the All Blacks in Auckland on July 18.
The Wallabies leave on Monday for Saturday week’s historic Bledisloe Cup clash with the All Blacks in Hong Kong before embarking on a five-match Spring Tour of Europe.