Burke's boot lays down law

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The Independent Online

It is perfectly possible to beat the world champions in a game of rugby, but not if you follow the French approach last night. To begin with, it is not the best of ideas to give a goal-kicker as accurate as Matthew Burke half-a-dozen kicks at goal, for he is 99 per cent certain to convert the lot. In addition, it is advisable to play for the whole 80 minutes, rather than for 10 at the start and another five at the end. Nothing less than everything will do when the Wallabies are in town.

It is perfectly possible to beat the world champions in a game of rugby, but not if you follow the French approach last night. To begin with, it is not the best of ideas to give a goal-kicker as accurate as Matthew Burke half-a-dozen kicks at goal, for he is 99 per cent certain to convert the lot. In addition, it is advisable to play for the whole 80 minutes, rather than for 10 at the start and another five at the end. Nothing less than everything will do when the Wallabies are in town.

The Tricolores' record at Stade de France has been about as scintillating as a bucket of corked vin de table over the last couple of years, and the lack of confidence among the public was reflected in the turn-out, which was no more than respectable. All things considered, Gallic rugby is going through one of its occasional flat periods: even when dashing D'Artagnan types like Christophe Dominici and Philippe Bernat-Salles are playing, there is a distinct lack of pizzazz. Without them, Les Bleus are a whiter shade of pale compared with the World Cup unit that ripped through the All Blacks a year ago.

Bernat-Salles is out of favour with Bernard Laporte, and Dominici is beset with personal problems. When Thomas Castaignÿde failed to make it through last night's warm-up - the Saracens full-back, who had been plagued by an ankle injury all week, ruptured his Achilles tendon last night - the French back-line looked no better than workaday. Certainly, Castaignÿde's late replacement, Xavier Garbajosa, appeared horribly out of sorts as the thoroughbreds in the Wallabies tested him with high balls throughout the opening period.

What little French fire there was came early, and it came from the tough guys at the coalface. Fabrice Landreau and Sylvain Marconnet, blood brothers in the Stade Français front row, took up the cudgels from the off, and their close-quarter work allowed the remarkable Olivier Magne to strut his stuff in characteristic style. Twice in the opening 10 minutes, the French forwards surged towards the Wallaby line. Twice they over-complicated things in the face of some iron defence.

The tourists, on the other hand, were several degrees more precise in everything they did, and that allowed Burke to kick three penalties in the first half and two more in the opening 14 minutes of the second. The last of these, from near halfway, was a heartbreaker for the French, leaving them as it did 12 points off the pace. When Christophe Lamaison, one of the great dead-eye kickers in world rugby, immediately missed the sticks from inside the Australian 22, the writing was on the wall in very large script indeed.

The formidable Burke is quite something, despite his medical record. Playing on the right wing rather than at full-back - for the soundest of tactical reasons, Rod Macqueen, the Wallaby coach, rather fancied the prospect of pairing the New South Walian with a No 15 as slippery as Chris Latham - he involved himself in anything and everthing. When this Wallaby back division really clicks, heaven help the poor souls lined up against them.

Only Franck Comba, a real craftsman of an inside-centre, asked the tourists questions that they struggled to answer. Stirling Mortlock needed to find the mother and father of a tap-tackle to cut down the Stade Français midfielder as he shimmied into the Wallaby 22 early in the second quarter, while Latham caught him in the right corner late on.

Comba was also decked by a first-degree high tackle from George Smith, which earned the debutant flanker a spell in the cooler. Smith's departure led directly to Fabien Galthié's scrambled try three minutes from time, but the issue was already resolved.

France: X Garbajosa (Toulouse); T Lombard (Stade Français), F Comba (Stade Francais), R Dourthe (Beziers), D Bory (Montferrand); C Lamaison (Agen), F Galthié (Colomiers); S Marconnet (Stade Français), F Landreau (Stade Français), C Califano (Toulouse), O Brouzet (Northampton), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), C Moni (Stade Français), O Magne (Montferrand), C Juillet (Stade Français). Replacements: D Auradou (Stade Français) for Brouzet, 58; F Tournaire (Toulouse) for Marconnet, 61; S Betsen (Biarritz) for Moni, 67; O Azam (Gloucester) for Juillet, 82.

Australia: C Latham (Queensland); M Burke (New South Wales), D Herbert (Queensland), S Mortlock (ACT), J Roff (ACT); R Kafer (ACT), S Cordingley (Queensland); W Young (ACT), M Foley (Queensland), F Dyson (Queensland), D Giffin (ACT), J Eales (Queensland, capt), M Cockbain (Queensland), G Smith (ACT), T Kefu (Queensland). Replacements: J Paul (ACT) for Foley, 25; M Connors (Queensland) for Cockbain, 49; G Panoho (Queensland) for Dyson, 55; J Williams (ACT) for Kefu, 66.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

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