Gregan hits his century as Boks look for an upset
Saturday 31 July 2004
They have laid out the barbie, caught the prawns and chilled the chardonnay. The political bigwigs in this Western Australian state are licking their lips in anticipation at a cash-cow of an international rugby weekend. They expect the local economy to be boosted to the extent of A$10m (£3.85m).
The feelgood factor is enhanced by the expectation of another Australian rugby win, and with the Wallaby captain George Gregan celebrating his 100th Test appearance, expectations are high.
Yet might South Africa's rugby players now stand up and be counted? Denied in the last 10 seconds in New Zealand last weekend, this Springbok squad has suggested significant progress. Good attitudes seem to prevail, and good habits.
But there comes a time when the talking has to stop and players have to start delivering. South Africa proved their defensive capabilities in Christchurch, making over 200 tackles, an astonishing figure. So their courage and commitment are not in question. But other parts of their game are. Or at least they will be until they defeat either the Wallabies or the All Blacks, some time within the next three weeks of this Tri-Nations competition.
One doubts that they will get a better chance of beating the Wallabies in Australia. Without the suspended hooker Brendan Cannon and forced by the excellence of flankers Schalk Burger and AJ Venter in Christchurch to rearrange their back row, Australia have gone back to the unconvincing forwards who played England in the World Cup final last November.
If the Springboks cannot expose that pack, as England would have done to a far greater extent if the South African referee Andre Watson had not decided to play uncontested scrums, then those players in whom Jake White has pinned his faith are just not up to it. For example, unambiguous proof is required that this really is a formidable, old-fashioned Springbok scrummage with the power to disrupt the Wallaby journeymen up front.
The dropping of the tall Wallaby flanker Radike Samo in favour of George Smith's superior scrabbling on the deck also offers the Springboks a golden opportunity at the tail of the line-out. With accurate throwing, the South African jumpers can establish superiority there, giving them a juicy attacking platform. Line-out ball off the tail, with which to sweep into midfield on the attack, is prized.
For Gregan, it is a special occasion. His 100 caps, earned over 11 years, put him within one of David Campese's Australian Test record. The outstanding scrum-half said: "It is a very proud moment for me. It is a big occasion and I am looking forward to playing it. But I would be lying if I said I thought I would be playing 100 Tests for Australia. By the nature of what we do, it can end pretty quickly so I have just enjoyed the moment each time, the here and now. I haven't got too far ahead of myself.
"It has been a feeling of persistence. I am lucky to have played this number of matches with such great people. You build great friendships throughout that time and I have been able to do that over my career. But I couldn't have done this without great support from my family. My wife is an amazing lady who always gives me great support."
Gregan's return is important yet this is far from a fearsome Australian side. The fly-half, Stephen Larkham, struggles under pressure and their forwards are average. There is no better time for the Springboks to make an emphatic statement of their intent, their quality and their potential.
George Gregan Factfile
Date of Birth: 19 April 1973 Born: Zambia
Height: 5ft 8in
State team: ACT Brumbies Super 12 Caps: 103
State Caps: 120
Test debut: v Italy 1994 Teams played for: ACT U19s, ACT U21s, ACT Brumbies, Australian U19s, Australian U21s, Australian Sevens, Australia.
World Cups: 1995 (in South Africa), 1999 (in Wales, Australia won), 2003 (in Australia).
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