Rugby World Cup: Macqueen wants to close the roof

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The Independent Online
IT IS QUITE a departure for an Australian sports figure to ask someone else to put the lid on it, but Rod Macqueen is not too keen on seeing his chances of emulating Bob Dwyer as a World Cup-winning Wallaby coach undermined by anything British, least of all the weather. Macqueen wants the tournament organisers to turn the new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff into an indoor arena for this Saturday's final against France. "If you own a Ferrari, it's daft not to drive it," he said, with a certain degree of logic.

The Wallaby management was last night planning a formal submission to Rugby World Cup, asking for the pounds 125m venue's hydraulic roof to be drawn across without further ado. They are concerned on two counts: first, that the play-off match between New Zealand and South Africa will take place on Thursday, less than 48 hours before the showpiece event, and, secondly, that the pitch has not yet bedded in and is severely affected by rain. "We played a wet-weather match on it when we met Wales in the quarter- final, and the conditions became very awkward," explained Macqueen last night.

Unusually, given the tardiness of their reactions to pretty much everything, the rugby hierarchy in Wales got wind of the Australian fears before Macqueen went public. Glanmor Griffiths, chairman of both the Welsh Rugby Union and Millenium Stadium plc, positioned himself firmly on the fence by saying: "As no other games have been played under a roof in the history of the sport, it would be a huge shift from the norm. But as the Millennium Stadium has the capability to provide an enclosed arena for the final, the Wallabies are at liberty to ask the question. It is my understanding that there is no law on the issue in the current International Board rule book."

Meanwhile, three influential Wallabies - the captain, John Eales, the blind-side flanker, Matt Cockbain, and the outside-half, Steve Larkham, who effectively won Saturday's semi-final victory over South Africa with the first successful drop goal of his Test career - missed yesterday's training run at Llanrumney Fields, just outside Cardiff. Eales was suffering from a calf strain while the others picked up knee damage during the trial of strength with the Springboks. "We won't play anyone in the final who isn't 100 per cent fit," asserted Macqueen, "but our medical guys are confident they'll be right and they've been spot on so far."

One member of the party may be a little below par, however. Scott Harrison, the video analyst, was dragooned into working overtime when the second semi-final provided the biggest shock in the 12-year history of the World Cup. "Scott worked through the night to put some footage together for us," said the coach. "We wouldn't have needed too much time in front of the video had the All Blacks come through as we expected, because we play them every year and we know their game pretty well. The French are a different matter, though. They have the ability to attack opposition weaknesses and they're peaking at the right time. We need to take a close look at what they're doing."

The referee taking a close look at both sides on Saturday will be the South African Andre Watson, who becomes the first southern hemisphere official to control a World Cup final since the late Kerry Fitzgerald, an Australian, was awarded the inaugural New Zealand-France match in 1987. Ed Morrison, the Bristolian who whistled the final in Johannesburg four years ago, and Paddy O'Brien, the leading New Zealand official, will run the touch. Another Antipodean, Australia's Peter Marshall, has been given Thursday night's play-off match.

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