Wallabies must restore Australian pride

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The Independent Online

Collectively, the Australian rugby union and cricket teams have thus far this year played nine Test matches and won just one. By the end of Saturday's Tri-Nations rugby Test match against South Africa in Brisbane that may well read Played 10, Lost 9.

These are the kind of statistics that induce resignations from Prime Ministers, Government inquiries and abandonment of the Sheilas in the land down under. The only smiling face in Australia these days belongs to the bloke who just won the lottery. And there aren't too many of those around.

Australian rugby coach Robbie Deans celebrated his 50th birthday this week. Coming, as it did, sandwiched between last weekend's hiding at Perth by the world champion Springboks and this weekend's likely repeat performance at Brisbane's SunCorp stadium, it's safe to say the Australians probably didn't prepare a cake the size of Sydney Harbour to celebrate the event for their New Zealand chief.

It was all so different when Deans was expensively lured across the Tasman Sea early last year, to the angst of his fellow Kiwis who wanted him to replace Graham Henry as All Blacks coach and the cheers of the Australians, who always love to poke the Kiwis one in the eye. The Australian rugby union wore smiles as expensive as Cartier watches at what they saw as the steal of the century. Deans, went the whisper, could take the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 2011.

That was the theory. The reality was born out in a Brisbane press conference this week when an Australian media interrogator, the breed which gives piranhas a good name, asked a barbed question of Australian wing Lachie Turner. ‘Is it the coach's game plan that is all wrong or the players' failure to execute it properly' came the missile. Sensibly, Turner ducked.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with our game plan," he said. "The fact is that we have been so close over the entire series but haven't got the results because there have been little lapses of concentration. We've got the game plan to really take these games and wrestle them away from the opposition.

"We've just as a unit got to knuckle down and make sure we're concentrating and executing for the full 80 minutes. Once we start to do that, we'll be pretty hard to stop."

True, perhaps, but then as Ricky Ponting would testify, it all comes down to winning the big moments and Australian sportsmen seem to have lost that art of late.

For sure, if the rampaging South Africans, even without wing JP Pietersen through injury, fail to complete the deal in Brisbane tomorrow and clinch their first Tri-Nations title since 2004, it will be a major surprise. Not a calamity, however, for the Springboks have still to play New Zealand in Hamilton next week. Statistically, they need just a single point from either game to be sure of the title. Brisbane will surely be the setting for more Springbok success.

The South Africans have moved through world rugby this year like Hitler's Panzers through Poland, 70 years ago this week. Their overwhelmingly superior force and speed has swamped every opposition. Disregard the Lions 3rd Test; that was a South African 2nd XV. At their strongest, they are in a class of their own.

They have the world's most influential captain, the best second row pairing in world rugby, the best open-side, the best No. 8, the best half-back, the most reliable goal kicker, the most creative inside centre and the fastest, most dangerous wing in world rugby. Not too many weaknesses there, then.

They have spent much of this week talking up the Australians and their challenge. Can there ever have been a greater slight on the sports loving Aussies than an opposition trying to gee them up?


Australia: J. O'Connor; L. Turner, A.Ashley-Cooper, B. Barnes, D. Mitchell; M. Giteau, W. Genia; B. Robinson, T. Polota-Nau, B. Alexander, J. Horwill, M. Chisholm, R. Elsom, D. Pocock, G. Smith (Capt.).

South Africa: R. Pienaar; O. Ndungane, J. Fourie, J.de Villiers, B. Habana; M. Steyn, F. Du Preez; T. Mtawarira, B.du Plessis, J.Smit (Capt.), B. Botha, V.Matfield, H. Brussow, J. Smith, P. Spies.