Gregan and Co make serious point

Northern Hemisphere 19 - Southern Hemisphere 54
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The Independent Online

Any notion that this special match in aid of the Tsunami Relief Fund would be an exhibition of touch rugby was dispelled in the first minute, when Brian Lima showed that he is not called "The Chiropractor" for nothing.

Any notion that this special match in aid of the Tsunami Relief Fund would be an exhibition of touch rugby was dispelled in the first minute, when Brian Lima showed that he is not called "The Chiropractor" for nothing.

Pat-a-cake it was not. Mirco Bergamasco was minding his own business when the upper half of his body was rearranged by a tackle from the veteran Samoan wing. Lurking on the other flank was the equally formidable figure of Sireli Bobo. In short, the South had far more firepower. They also looked as if they had a point to prove.

They won by seven goals and a try to two goals and a try as they overwhelmed a North side who represented Europe. Critics of the Super 12 might say that they spend most of their time playing exhibition rugby. Whatever, they were good value for their victory.

The International Rugby Board, who organised the fixture, which was called Rugby Aid, say they raised £1 million, although others were not so quick to verify the figure, pointing out that until the accounts were done it was impossible to estimate contributions to Tsunami Relief. One figure not in dispute was the attendance of 40,246. Twickenham was just over half-full (a pessimist would say it was half-empty), but with tickets costing up to £45, perhaps it was not surprising.

What was refreshing about this unique encounter is that the players approached it in a serious manner. All it lacked compared with the real thing was a punch-up. That aside, it had everything else, including abuse of the referee, Paddy O'Brien. An indication that there were very few false notes about the match came in the 69th minute. Ben Cohen, who is hoping to win a recall for England against Italy here next Saturday, tried everything he knew to score and appeared to have succeeded when he crossed the line, accompanied by the South captain, George Gregan. The admirable Gregan managed to dislodge the ball from his grasp, although that could only be confirmed from various camera angles.

Most referees would have automatically awarded the try, but O'Brien called for the assistance of the video official, who ruled that Cohen had indeed dropped the ball. O'Brien was roundly booed.

Cohen had to go off at the end after taking a bang to the face, but he lasted a lot longer than the New Zealand captain, Tana Umaga, who was replaced after 22 minutes. However, Umaga had already made his presence felt, scoring the South's first try after 12 minutes, a spectacular effort created by Gregan and Lima. Umaga also had time, with Lima, to remind David Humphreys that this was no stroll in the park by catching the Irish stand-off in a pulverising pincer-tackle.

The first half was much more closely contested than the second, and after 20 minutes the North were on level terms, Ollie Smith sparking an attack with a stunning reverse-pass which released the captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, who fed a scoring pass to the hooker, Andy Titterrell. Lima got the South's second by beating Donncha O'Callaghan and John Yapp in a run to the line before Humphreys' cross-kick enabled Pat Sanderson to respond for the North.

The spirit of the South was epitomised, above all, by the Australian full-back Chris Latham, although he was closely followed by the all-action flankers Schalk Burger and Phil Waugh. Latham sprinted 50 yards for his first try in the 34th minute, which was soon followed by another from Burger.

After the North had lost the Wales scrum-half Gareth Cooper with an ankle injury, Latham went on to get a second try, capitalising on a mistake by Cohen from a cross-kick by Andrew Mehrtens.

Semo Sititi also crossed twice, scoring his second try and his side's last by smashing through an attempted tackle by Mathew Tait, his Newcastle team-mate. It doesn't get any better for young Tait, who was capped by England against Wales only to be summarily discarded. When he came on in the second half, the South were running from almost everywhere.

It was, of course, the opposite for Latham. In the final move of the match he produced a try-saving tackle on Bergamasco. "How we came to get together during the week was fantastic," said Latham, who was made man of the match.

Last year the IRB tried to stage a similar fixture in aid of the have-nots in international rugby, but were forced to cancel it because of a lack of support.

Sir Clive Woodward, the coach of the North, said his team had only one training session. "You can't compare this to the Lions in New Zealand," he said. "It's tough to judge when you're playing against such an experienced side, and the result speaks for itself."

He added that the rugby calendar was so full that he could not see such a fixture being repeated. Rod McQueen, who coached the South, disagreed. "I'd like to see more of this," he said, "and I think there's a good argument to stage such a fixture every second year."

Northern Hemisphere: C Paterson (Scotland); M Bergamasco (Italy), O Smith (England), C Sweeney (Wales), B Cohen (England); D Humphreys (Ireland), G Cooper (Wales); J Yapp (Wales), A Titterrell (England), C Horsman, M Bortolami (Italy), D O'Callaghan (Ireland), L Dallaglio (England, capt), S Taylor (Scotland), P Sanderson (England). Replacements: R Ibañez (France) for Titterrell, 55; J Thomas (Wales) for Sanderson, 46; E Miller (Ireland) for S Taylor, 46; M Phillips (Wales) for Cooper, 41; M Taylor (Wales) for Humphreys, 52; S Taylor for Cohen, 75; M Tait (England) for Paterson, 56.

Southern Hemisphere: C Latham (Australia); B Lima (Samoa), J Fourie (South Africa), T Umaga (New Zealand), S Bobo (Fiji); A Mehrtens (New Zealand), G Gregan (Australia, capt); C Hoeft (New Zealand), J Smit (South Africa), K Visagie (South Africa), O Palepoi (Samoa), V Matfield (South Africa), S Burger (South Africa), T Kefu (Australia), P Waugh (Australia). Replacements: E Taukafa (Tonga) for Smit, 76; S Sititi (Samoa) for Kefu, 65; M Mustchin for Palepoi, 77; M Raulini (Fiji) for Lima, 74; T Delport (South Africa) for Umaga, 22; S Drahm for Bobo, 67.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).

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