Driving ambition to halt the gold and green machine

RUGBY LEAGUE CENTENARY WORLD CUP 1995; Phil Clarke, the England second-row, believes the hosts have the players capable of beating the Australians at Wembley today
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The Independent Online
Despite all the upheavals in rugby league over the past year, we are quite clear in our minds that we are facing the favourites for the Centenary World Cup at Wembley this afternoon.

As a result of the politics of the game, the Australian team are supposed to have been weakened. They have not brought household names like Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde and Ricky Stuart, who were instrumental in winning the Ashes here just 12 months ago. However, a look at the team they have chosen shows only a handful of players who have not played here before.

This is the strength of Australian rugby league. They have far more players who can perform at international level than any other country. My own experience in Australia is that domestic games there are more closely contested and played with a greater intensity, far closer to international matches than an average game in Britain. This has given the Australian team a distinct advantage.

Even without their Super League players, they are able to bring over Brad Fittler, probably the best player in the world and a team-mate of mine at the Sydney City Roosters next season. In Steve Menzies they have a lethal attacking weapon and, as well as their familiar stars, they have three very dangerous and exciting players in John Hopoate, Jason Smith and Jim Dymock. They are visible demonstrations of the depth of quality in Australia.

Bob Fulton encourages Australia to play an adventurous, attractive brand of rugby, in which every player is urged to off-load the ball in the tackle, creating dangerous second-phase possession, which is difficult to defend against.

Complementing this is a well-organised and aggressive defence which forces teams to make mistakes, which they capitalise upon and convert into tries. A look back at last year's Ashes series shows that many Australian tries came from a quick turn-around of British mistakes. Their defence has been the foundation on which so many past victories have been built, and is something to which Australian clubs devote more time than in Britain.

What can England offer to counter this revamped green and gold machine? There is a great deal of continuity from last year's series, and we also have the benefit of Denis Betts, Chris Joynt, Lee Jackson, Andy Platt and myself all playing in what is still the most intense and competitive rugby competition in the world - the Winfield Cup.

We also have a remarkable leader in Shaun Edwards, the most successful player of the modern era, but one whose continuing hunger for victory, especially over the Australians, is unique.

Although all eyes will be focused on England and Australia today, I would not be surprised to see an upset from the Pacific islanders in this tournament. Having played with and against them, I've experienced first hand their natural power and explosiveness. Their philosophy is all about attack and I believe we must expect the unexpected.

I hear that the officials are going to to impose a very quick play-the-ball, speeding up the flow of play. I believe that this will make this tournament the most exciting and entertaining rugby show ever.

Along with the other players I've talked to, I'm genuinely excited to be taking part in it. All that remains is for the world to sit back and admire the determination, athletic prowess and skill.

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