Unconvincing Wallabies win World Cup opener

Australia 24 Argentina 8
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The Independent Online

Winger Wendell Sailor scored the first try of the 2003 Rugby World Cup as defending champion Australia ground to an unconvincing 24-8 win over Argentina in Friday's tournament opener.

The Pumas punctuated obvious problems for Australia's defence when fullback Ignacio Corleto crossed in the left corner in a lunging tackle from Sailor after a sniping blindside run from Agustin Pichot with nine minutes remaining.

But Joe Roff, a veteran of three World Cups, responded three minutes later, sliding through a gap in the Argentine midfield on a clever pass from replacement flyhalf Matt Giteau and racing 30 meters for his 28th test try.

Elton Flatley landed the conversion from in front to make improve his record to five goals from six attempts to extend the winning margin to 16 points.

Sailor delighted the World Cup-record 81,350 crowd at Sydney's Olympic Stadium when he bumped off two tacklers and dragged another across the tryline in the 20th minute after taking a neat inside ball from Mat Rogers about seven meters out.

The Wallabies had opened up holes in Argentina's defense in the previous phase, with the ball spread through 13 sets of hands as it swung from one side of the field to the other and back again.

Sailor had a strong match, beating the first tackler every time and giving Australia forward momentum. But the backline did stutter, with 10 handling errors in the first 50 minutes ruining positive attacking plays.

The Wallabies led 14-3 at halftime, with Sailor's try and penalties to Flatley in the 6th, 16th and 40th minutes against Felipe Contepomi's lone penalty goal in the 27th minute.

In a dour second half, dominated by forward exchanges and handling errors, Flatley's penalty in the 52nd minute provided the only points until the last 10 minutes.

The win came at cost for Australia, with giant lock David Giffin carried from the field with concussion after falling heavily to the ground as he gathered the opening kick off in the second half.

The Pumas lacked options and continually peppered the Australian back three with deep kicks that gave the Wallabies counter-attacking opportunities.

The Wallabies had showed an intention to use the ball from the start, although the attacking gameplan almost backfired when the Pumas went within a meter of the tryline following Agustin Pichot's quick penalty tap in the third minute.

Roff salvaged the loose ball and the Wallabies won the subsequent lineout against the throw.

Felipe Contepomi had three attempts at goal in the first half but was successful with one - while his twin brother Manuel was spending 10 minutes in the sinbin for a dangerous tackle on Rogers.

He missed another shot from close range in the 57th minute as his nightmare kicking against the Wallabies continued. He missed seven shots in the 17-6 loss to Australia in Buenos Aires last November.

Australia, which also triumphed in 1991, is bidding to be the first team to win the title back to back.

Australia 24 (Wendell Sailor, Joe Roff tries; Elton Flatley 4 penalties, 1 conversion) def. Argentina 8 (Ignacio Corleto try; Felipe Contepomi 1 penalty).