Rugby Union: Australia get physical at expense of French

France 21 Australia 32
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The Independent Online
IT IS NOT only in the cricketing world that the pre-eminence of England versus Australia games is being questioned. Steve Larkham, the architect at outside-half of the Wallabies' nerveless victory in Paris en route to Twickenham this Saturday, steadfastly refused to get excited about the prospect of bashing the Poms.

"Our goal for the year was to beat New Zealand and win the Bledisloe Cup, which we did," said Larkham. "It is very tough to get up for these games at the end of the year, although we want to stamp our mark on the northern hemisphere sides before the World Cup."

So the Aussies are coming, and they are using this short tour - matches against France A, France and England - as much for acclimatisation for the World Cup 11 months hence as any desire to put one over Mother England. Acclimatisation, in this sense, meaning little things like waking up and finding it is still dark outside, or, as in Paris, stepping out to find it cold enough to freeze a dingo's doodah.

It is the sheer physicality of the Wallabies which takes the breath away, and which will doubtless loom large in the report of England's observer, Don Rutherford. The French lacked nothing in terms of spirit, but they were missing key performers in the injured Christian Califano, Jean-Luc Sadourny and Thomas Castaignede. By the end of the third quarter the Five Nations champions were a spent force, leaving John Eales, the Wallaby captain to bounce them out with four penalty goals from four attempts.

It was a crushing disappointment to a near 80,000 crowd that, having led 21-20 at half-time, les Bleus blew out.

Noriega, the 22-times capped Argentina prop, was one of three new Wallaby caps, an almost revolutionary move for a side whose watchword has been consistency of selection. The absence of Matt Burke and Tim Horan among eight injured players gave Chris Latham and Nathan Grey their chance. Yet the core units - George Gregan and Larkham at half-back, Eales and Tom Bowman in the second row, the all-Queensland back row - have been constant through a run of 12 Tests and only two defeats, both to South Africa.

The boost to the Aussies' morale of their three-Test drubbing of the All Blacks in the summer should not be underestimated. World-weary and leg-weary they may be, but the Aussies, who made their way through the Channel Tunnel yesterday afternoon, are ready.

France: Tries Lombard, Carbonneau; Conversion Lamaison; Penalties Lamaison 3. Australia: Tries Wilson, Bowman, Kefu; Conversion Eales; Penalties Eales 5.

FRANCE: A Gomes (Stade Francais); P Bernat-Salles (Biarritz), C Lamaison (Brive), S Glas (Bourgoin), T Lombard (Stade Francais); D Aucagne (Pau), P Carbonneau (Brive); S Marconnet (Stade Francais), R Ibanez (Perpignan, capt), F Tournaire, O Brouzet (both Begles-Bordeaux), F Pelous (Toulouse), M Lievremont (Stade Francais), O Magne (Brive), T Lievremont (Perpignan). Replacement: R Castel (Beziers) for M Lievremont (68 mins).

AUSTRALIA: C Latham; J Little, D Herbert (all Queensland), N Grey (New South Wales), J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan, P Noriega (all ACT), P Kearns (Queensland), A Blades, T Bowman (both New South Wales), J Eales (capt), M Cockbain, D Wilson, T Kefu (all Queensland). Replacements: O Finegan (ACT) for Cockbain (56), W Ofahengaue (New South Wales) for Kefu (58), M Foley (Queensland) for Kearns (59).

Referee: Andre Watson (South Africa).