Farr-Jones is lone voice of sanity among home critics

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Amid the hyperbole that is swamping this city prior to the World Cup final, one assessment yesterday highlighted what Australians fear most of all.

The Wallabies' 1991 World Cup-winning captain, Nick Farr-Jones, spoke at length about his thoughts on today's game. But not once did he say he expected the Australians to win. It was highly revealing.

"Individually and collectively," he said of the Wallabies, "the guys have to again punch above their weight." He also rubbished the widespread comments of his own countrymen concerning England, saying: "It is a fallacy to say that this English team cannot play a multi-faceted game." It was a welcome sign of some sanity existing among Australians who have become all but deranged at the prospect of losing the World Cup to the hated Poms.

A balanced viewpoint came from the New Zealand coach, John Mitchell. "This means everything to Clive [Woodward]," he said. "His programme has been going for six years and he has been really obstinate in his methods to improve English rugby. Knowing Clive very closely as I do [he was England's No 2 coach before returning home to take charge of the All Blacks], I know how determined and focused his team will be. For me, it would be better for a southern hemisphere team to win the World Cup but I would be pleased for Clive if England did it. But I think Australia can make it."

The best news for England last night was that the French journalist community here, éminences grises of French society, have come out firmly for England. "We have decided; we will support England. But only now, this time. After this match, it is finished," one said.

The French coach, Bernard Laporte, wants to see England bring the William Webb Ellis trophy to the northern hemisphere for the first time. But he says: "I am afraid it will be Australia. The northern hemisphere needs to win. Also, victory for England would be deserved after all the quality and big work Clive Woodward has done." Much will depend on the conditions, according to Laporte. "If it rains, England will win. But if it is normal, I think Australia. The Wallabies are looking fresher than the other countries at the end of this World Cup. They have the quality players in the backs that England do not have. It will be very close but I think Australia will win."

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