Australia summon spirit of 1908 to quell Barbarians

Barbarians 11 Australia 18

The first rugby union match to take place here at the new Wembley Stadium was staged last night to celebrate the Olympic final of 1908 at London’s White City. The gold medal went to Australia and the silver to Great Britain who were represented by the county champions Cornwall. There was no bronze for there were no other competitors.

Cornwall wanted to get one or two of their number into the Barbarians side that took on the Wallabies here last night but their request was refused. With hindsight maybe it wasn’t a bad call. Any suspicion that this centenary match would be treated lightly was dispelled when the Wallabies’ prop Matt Dunning was carried off on a stretcher after the Baa-Baas wheeled and disrupted a scrum. Dunning snapped an Achilles tendon and will be in rehab for months.

It was about the only time Australia took a backward step as they played as if a gold medal was at stake. Missing a number of their experienced, frontline players, they were expected to be up against it. There was plenty of class on show but there is no substitute for team spirit and Australia had it in spades. Even for so called friendly matches the players are now so professionalised they cannot switch off. The Baa-Baas spurned an early, easy penalty but soon realised that if they were to put some points on the board they would take any chance going. After Hugh McMeniman had threatened to decapitate Fourie du Preez with a arm around the throat, the Wallabies launched a brilliant attack which featured great work by the centre Ryan Cross and his intelligent chip ahead led to a try by Lote Tuqiri.

Australia’s great defence meant that try opportunities were few and far between. These boys were not playing for the fun of it: witness Federico Pucciariello’s charge on the stand-off Quade Cooper. James O’Connor, the 18-year-old Australian full-back who looked young enough to be playing mini-rugby, kicked his side further ahead with two penalties, Percy Montgomery responding in kind before half-time. Although the Baa-Baas were denied tries by the ruling of the video official, they managed to register a try, scored by Jerry Collins and created by Shane Williams. And that was about as good as it got for the invitational side as the Wallabies crowned an excellent win with a brilliant counter-attacking try by Lachie Turner. Their reward was the Cornwall Cup, presented by Princess Anne. It should have been the Duchy of Cornwall.

Barbarians: P Montgomery (Stormers and South Africa); J Rokocoko (Auckland and New Zealand), R Gear (Worcester and NZ), J de Villiers (Western Province and SA), B Habana (Blue Bulls and SA); F Steyn (Sharks and SA), F du Preez (Blue Bulls and SA); F Pucciariello (Munster and Italy), J Smith (Sharks and SA, capt), C Johnston (Saracens and Samoa), B Botha (Blue Bulls and SA), J Muller (Sharks and SA), J Collins (Toulon and NZ), S Burger (Stormers and SA), R McCaw (Canterbury and NZ).

Australia: J O’Connor (Western Force); L Tuqiri (NSW Waratahs), R Cross (Western Force), A Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), D Ioane (Queensland Reds); B Sheehan\[Mick Connaughton\] (NSW Waratahs); T Polota-Nau\[Mick Connaughton\] (NSW Waratahs)</>, M Dunning (all NSW Waratahs), M Chisholm (Brumbies), H McMeniman (Queensland Reds), D Mumm (NSW Waratahs), R Brown (Western Force), G Smith (Brumbies, capt).

Referee: C White (Eng).