category: rugby news

Latham will make Burke of himself

Spiro Zavos17/9/07

WHEN Stirling Mortlock banged over a conversion from the sideline, right on half-time, to take the Wallabies to a 25-3 lead, a chap standing next to me exclaimed, "Oooaahhh!" - virtually guiding the ball through the posts.

The try had been scored by Chris Latham - a typically knees-pumping, thrusting drive for the line. The Welsh cover should have been able to knock him into touch because he was less than a metre from the sideline.

But the defensive attempt, although it was whole-hearted and involved several players, was like a couple of kids trying to stop a tank.

I've always believed that the best Australian fullback in modern times was Matt Burke. He had that wonderful ability to play better the more important the match. His finest hour as a Wallabies No.15 was his faultless and fearless effort in the 1999 RWC final against France, who were intent on eye-gouging their way to victory .

But Latham, I feel, is surpassing Burke. Against Wales, in a crucial match and in front of a partisan crowd, Latham scored one improbable try just on half-time, and then, when Wales were coming back into the match led by a scrum that was beginning to dominate the Wallabies, he followed through his kick, caught the rebound and executed a dive with a high degree of difficulty and potential to damage his ribs to plant the ball over the Welsh line.

Another player to impress was the youngster, Berrick Barnes. He kicked huge punts downfield, and made the break which lead to the important first try by Matt Giteau.

The best thing about his play was his enthusiasm in taking the ball to the line, in the manner of Stephen Larkham. Like Burke and Latham, Barnes also seems to have the ability, on this impressive showing and also the cameo against Japan, to play better the higher the quality of the match.

For the past three years, the great search in Australian rugby has for a successor to Larkham. In this tournament, Barnes seems to be making his mark as the great five-eighth's natural replacement.

The adverts for Guinness beer touted this match as 75,022 Welshmen against 22 Australians. The crowd did its best to inspire the home side but, despite some brave play towards the end of the match, Wales were out-thought and out-fought for most of the time. The match was virtually over by half-time. Wales played with desperation in the last quarter but there was never a realistic hope that they could win it.

There has been much criticism of John Connolly and John O'Neill for making the obvious but valid point that this match should never have been played at Cardiff.

It is not "whingeing" to note that a RWC tournament hosted by France should be played in France. The fact that Wales and Scotland were given the right to host matches against their toughest opponents in their group stages is a disgrace.

The IRB should create a firm policy that henceforth, after the 2011 RWC - which will be held entirely in New Zealand - all future tournaments should be staged solely in the host country.

One can imagine the howls of the British media if, say, the NZRU "sold" group matches in 2011 involving the Wallabies to the ARU so that they could be played in Sydney.

As it happens, now that the Wallabies have defeated Wales at home, it is possible to accept that for this tournament, it has been a good thing for the Wallabies to have played their toughest group match away from France. In a sense, the match was a double away game - away from Australia and away from France.

A victory against Wales in front of a fired up home crowd will do wonders for the confidence of the side, in a World Cup which is being dominated by southern hemisphere teams.

SPIRO ZAVOS - Sydney Morning Herald | Monday, 17 September 2007 | Comment on this article

Spiro Zavos

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Latham will make Burke of himself 17/9/07
How to beat the All Blacks 3/9/07
Wallabies not happy campers 3/8/07
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