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
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
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
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
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
SPIRO ZAVOS -
Morning Herald | Monday, 17 September
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