Look out for a new-look Australia

WORLD CUP COMMENT
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The Independent Online
The phoney war is over and battle is joined at last. Nine days after our arrival in South Africa, the 1995 Rugby World Cup finally commenced. Unfortunately, the result fell well short of original Australian expectations.

South Africa were the better team when they beat us 27-18 at Newlands Stadium last Thursday and they have every reason to rejoice in their triumph. It's as simple as that. They deserved the win and will take heart and strength from the confidence that will naturally follow such an assured debut performance.

The ensuing days have provided ample time for reflection on what went wrong. We realise that one battle does not make an entire campaign, but we have to ensure that our next opponents, Canada, are left in no doubt about that either. This Wallaby team is not comfortable in defeat. It is encumbent upon the entire squad now to show we are anything but the spent force some critics would already suggest.

Was it technique or temperament that let us down against South Africa? I suspect a little of both. Our figures show the Wallabies retained just one kick-off from the 14 contested, an unpardonable rugby sin at any level. That statistic defines just where we went wrong in the forwards. Lack of urgency seemed to be the order of the day and it was too often left to Willie Ofahengaue to mount any serious forward momentum.

Aa far as temperament goes, there were definitely two or three Australian players out there overwhelmed by the occasion. The pomp and circumstance of a World Cup opening may have been too much for them. That contributed to the huge element of apprehension which infected the entire team and translated into poor handling, unforced errors and a general complacency all round.

Only twice before have I seen the Wallabies play with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm, as if they only had to run on to the pitch to emerge the victors. Once was in Sydney against the Springboks in 1993 and the other against France in Bordeaux later that year.

On both occasions the next Test saw the Wallabies back on song and firing. The team had realised that victory would not just come to them, it would have to be vigorously pursued. It is amazing what can be achieved after a hefty kick in the backside.

One last thought about the opening match. Anyone doubting the intensity of the atmosphere at Newlands last Thursday need only look at the match tape to see how close the stands were to the field of play. I rate it the most intimidating rugby pitch of all. It leaves Cardiff Arms Park and Twickenham for dead, with triple-layered stands coming right down to the touchline, packed with 54,000 partisan fans prepared to cheer every Springbok gain to the echo.

Now that's all in the past. In our next game, against the Canadians, you will see a totally different Wallaby XV. There are players like Tony Daly, Illie Tabua, Peter Slattery, Joe Roff and Tim Horan who deserve a chance. They will be drafted into the team to be given their opportunity to show just how good they can be.

The Canadians should come out with all guns firing. No doubt they would have seen the extremely physical approach of the Springboks and will seek to emulate that abrasive, combative style. They have the players to do it and will be treated with utmost respect by the team. So too Romania who follow, a team blessed with big men and fierce nationalistic spirit.

Both these opponents had been written off before a ball was kicked and will be anxious for the chance to claim a Wallaby scalp. Witness their enthusiastic first match under difficult conditions last Friday night. Anyone expecting the Wallabies therefore to emulate Scotland's 13-try disposal of the Ivory Coast should think again.

As to the other nations in the tournament, their real form is becoming apparent as the pool matches progress, with the most impressive performances over the last two days paradoxically belonging to losing sides.

Argentina were a revelation against England and ran them very, very close. If they had had a good goal kicker in their team they would have won. To score two tries to nil shows just how well they played and I agree with Brian Moore, who said England were about 40 per cent below their desired performance. England are still an extremely good side. It is a mark of their current world standing that they can play indifferently and still win. This point will not be lost on their future opponents.

Ireland were the other team to stand out in the opening round. They gave the All Blacks one hell of a scare. They showed just what they are always capable of by doing three simple things well: they played with controlled aggression, good body height and backline skill. Whenever they got the ball to their midfield going forward the All Blacks knew they were in trouble.

Conversely Ireland had their hands full whenever the All Blacks moved the ball wide, where Jonah Lomu confirmed his status as the prototype rugby player of the future. Fast, intelligent and difficult to stop, he was dynamic in attack. Clearly Ireland's tactic to counter his running brilliance was to kick behind him to make him stop, turn and retreat.

That is a sound theory but you have to make sure the defence is upon him straight away. Otherwise you're simply rolling over hard-won possession and giving it to the hardest man to stop in the other team.

Wales had a good win over Japan, who always play with much enthusiasm but conceded a little too much in the tackling department. In defence Japan were all over Wales, but there is no substitute for good, hard first- up tackling.

This is the very thing the Wallabies will be concentrating on in the lead-up to Canada.

Interview: Simon Kent

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