Rugby Union / Tour Verdict: Wallabies leap ahead of the clock: The world champions' wounded walkabout has provided invaluable experience for their new generation

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The Independent Online
AFTER rugby's autumn of zoological riches, with Springboks and Wallabies among us at the same time, nothing much - nothing at all, really - has changed. In the past couple of months we seem to have travelled a long way through France, England, Ireland and Wales only to be back where we started, but there it is. Australia are still the best.

And also the most affable, their accessibility and amenability never dwindling even in the worst of times. At the risk of alienating a South African correspondent of mine who appears to think admiring the Australians equates with hating all Afrikaners, I will say again that as ambassadors not only for themselves but for the game of rugby union the Wallabies are in a class of their own.

After concluding an unexpectedly troublesome tour by beating the Barbarians at Twickenham, most have gone home - though some are giving the lie to the theory about there being too much rugby by playing on in Europe.

Tim Gavin has taken himself off to Italy with David Campese, which is nice work if you can get it. One of the reasons Northern Transvaal did not appoint Naas Botha as their coach when he returned from England was that he would have had to break his contract with Rovigo. Yes, contract . . . no one in this great amateur game of ours any longer tries to pretend otherwise.

South Africa's return to international rugby was a rude awakening for them, so much so that far from being surrogate world champions they are actually among the also-rans. The result of a game with, say, Wales would be an interesting conjecture.

This is not a status that suits the dignity of Springbok rugby, and the welter of domestic criticism of the tourists' performance on and off the field tells its own tale of a more painful rebirth than South Africans ever anticipated.

The parallel, or rather contrast, with our other visitors is instructive because the Wallabies, too, had to deal with more, and more difficult, problems than they had imagined. Eventually seven - including such crucial players as Lynagh, Daly and Eales - did not last the 13-match tour, meaning the generation change that Bob Dwyer planned for next year had to be brought forward.

Australian rugby will be the better for it, even if the tribulations of Cork, Swansea and Llanelli were greater than even the cheerfully practical Dwyer expected. For one thing, the Wallabies' coach had never subscribed to the non-Australian view that he had unprecedented strength in depth at his disposal. (According to Dwyer, it runs deeper in English rugby than anywhere else.)

'This year should really have been one of consolidation and next year a year of development,' he said. 'But it hasn't panned out that way. We've had to bring guys in a bit early and expose them to a foreign situation.' It was an enforced speculation on new blood - from which Australia will surely accumulate by the time of the next World Cup in 1995.

That there were defeats along the way is immaterial because the Wallabies passed their Tests and also raised their game when it counted against the Barbarians. Past Wallabies would have failed to cope with the vicissitudes of this tour; ultimately Dwyer's dealt successfully with defeat and injury, rain and cold.

'We have a much better side now,' he said. 'We are much more mature. I personally am. I understand the problems a lot more - and so do the players. We are much more thorough.' Here is a man who has grown into his role every bit as much as the players under his benign tutelage.

This point is powerfully emphasised when he recalls how the Wallabies used to have their own version of the bitter-and- twisted club. 'The big thing which makes it a lot easier is everyone in the team is so dedicated to each other, to preparation and to performing, whereas that has not necessarily been the case in the past where guys have whinged about non-selection and gone and had the non-selected meeting in someone's room and whinged about the selectors etc.'

The psychological debilitation this causes can scarcely be exaggerated, but on this tour non-selection acted as incentive rather than depressant. When, for instance, Tim Wallace was preferred to Paul Kahl for one of the more important matches, this was Kahl's response when Dwyer sought to elucidate: 'There's no need to explain. I don't deserve to have been selected.' Indeed, in the end it was Kahl, not Wallace, who ended up deputising at outside-half for the injured tour captain Michael Lynagh.

It is another interesting, if idle, conjecture to wonder how Australia would have fared had they, like South Africa, had to play England. Impressed though he was with Wales's remarkable improvement, Dwyer knows how much harder that would have been - what with the wretched weather and all those casualties as well as England's proven quality.

Dwyer foresees problems for England caused by the new laws, which he continues to excoriate despite the public reproof of his own International Rugby Board representative, Roger Vanderfield. 'The new laws,' Dwyer said, 'are a great leveller and that could be a problem for a team like England. The better teams are brought closer to the inferior.

'About the worst thing I could do for England is say they should win but they are the strongest team in the Five Nations by quite a margin. They have been extremely well prepared over a period of years and have a huge number of very good players.'

Australia, England and New Zealand lead the world - just as when they finished last year's World Cup in that order. The All Blacks may be in transition (a euphemism for not very good by their own standards) but depend on it that by next year, when they receive the Lions, their young team will have become as significant a force as most of their predecessors were.

Which leaves us with Australia, Down Under but still on top, not quite as good but as worthy wearers of the champions' mantle as they were the last time they graced Twickenham 13 months ago. Over the two years and more since they ended New Zealand's record unbeaten run in Wellington, they have beaten everyone, often handsomely.

Home again, they deserve not only our ringing applause but also a good long rest.

----------------------------------------------------------------- AUSTRALIA ON TOUR ----------------------------------------------------------------- Leinster (Dublin, 17 Oct) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .W 38-12 Munster (Cork, 21 Oct) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . L 22-19 Ulster (Belfast, 24 Oct) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W 35-11 Connacht (Galway, 27 Oct) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .W 14-6 IRELAND (Dublin, 31 Oct) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W 42-17 Swansea (4 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .L 21-6 Wales B (Cardiff, 7 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W 24-11 Neath (11 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . W 16-8 Llanelli (14 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .L 13-9 Monmouthshire (Ebbw Vale, 17 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . .W 19-9 WALES (Cardiff, 21 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .W 23-6 Welsh Students (Bridgend, 24 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . .W 37-6 Barbarians (Twickenham, 28 Nov) . . . . . . . . . . . .W 30-20 ----------------------------------------------------------------- TOUR RECORD ----------------------------------------------------------------- P13 W10 L3 F312 (32T, 19C, 38P) A162 Leading points-scorers: M Roebuck 100 (17C, 22P); T Kelaher 67 (3T, 2C, 16P) Leading try-scorers: D Campese 4; T Kelaher, J Little, D Smith, M Ryan 3; M Lynagh, T Gavin, E McKenzie, D Wilson, T Horan 2; J Eales, G Morgan, R McCall, D Nucifora, D Crowley, P Kearns 1. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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