Wallabies pursue loftier ambitions

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The Independent Online

John Eales confessed to two conflicting desires as he and his Wallaby world champions pitched camp on the banks of the Thames yesterday: on the one hand, he could barely wait to fly home to Brisbane for a decent rest, and on the other, he was desperate to protect his astonishing record of never having lost a Test match in Europe by kicking some Pommy butt at Twickenham on Saturday and underlining Australia's utter domination of the 15-man game.

John Eales confessed to two conflicting desires as he and his Wallaby world champions pitched camp on the banks of the Thames yesterday: on the one hand, he could barely wait to fly home to Brisbane for a decent rest, and on the other, he was desperate to protect his astonishing record of never having lost a Test match in Europe by kicking some Pommy butt at Twickenham on Saturday and underlining Australia's utter domination of the 15-man game.

Of course, only one of those sentiments will register with Eales come the weekend, and it will have nothing to do with the check-in time at Heathrow.

Worryingly for England - and when aren't they worried when they go eyeball to eyeball with the green and gold - the Wallabies are viewing this contest as a major staging post on the road to a couple of long-range destinations: next summer's series against the Lions and the 2003 World Cup. "If we can beat the English in their own backyard with new combinations in virtually every area of the side, I'll put it right up there among our biggest achievements over the last year," said the coach, Rod Macqueen. Given that Australia have won a World Cup, a Bledisloe Cup and a Tri-Nations tournament since November 1999, it was a comment of some significance.

Macqueen will not name his starting line-up until tomorrow, but any tinkering with the formation that completed a 30-point job on the Scots at Murrayfield three days ago is likely to be kept to a minimum. Elton Flatley, the Queenslander who might have challenged Rod Kafer for the outside-half berth, fractured a wrist in Edinburgh. Jeremy Paul is putting the heat on Michael Foley at hooker and there is a clamour for Jim Williams to be given a run, but when you have just won in France and Scotland with a new half-back pairing, a revamped back three, a reshaped front row and a remodelled breakaway unit, the temptation must be to plough straight on down the line.

It is one of the more remarkable facts of sporting life that the Wallabies should be so adept at a game that fails to register more than a blip on the Australian consciousness, although Eales and Macqueen both believe the balance of attention is shifting inexorably towards union.

"The gap has narrowed, for sure," the captain said. "It was a big boost to union at home when we won the World Cup in '91, and there will be a similar boom as a result of our winning the tournament again last year. Our goal, grandiose though it may sound, is to make union the No 1 sport in Australia. The big advantage we have is the international dimension, which is beyond anything rugby league and Aussie Rules can create."

That dimension only counts when Australia are winning Tests, hence their inexhaustible appetite for the fray and their unquenchable thirst for victory. "We aren't losing talent to league any more, and that's a big plus," smiled Macqueen. "Our schoolboy sides used to get pillaged by league and there are players on this tour, people like George Smith, who would have switched codes in any other era. Of course, we now have a professional game on our hands and we're in a position to keep pace with market values. But I want to ensure that money remains the consequence of what we do, not the motivation for it. Hopefully, the Wallaby jumper will always be the motivation."

Over the bridge in Wales, the Red Dragon jumper suddenly seems way out of reach for two young second-rowers who won their first caps against Samoa at the weekend. Deiniol Jones and James Griffiths were demoted to the second-string A squad by the national coach, Graham Henry, who recalled Chris Wyatt and Andy Moore, to the senior party for Saturday's Test against the United States. Jones was disappointingly invisible for much of his debut against the islanders, while Griffiths was too visible by half as he put the boot into a Samoan forward and was sent to the sin-bin within a minute of arriving on the field.

WALES SQUAD (v United States, Millennium Stadium, Saturday): R Williams (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), S Williams (Neath), D James (Llanelli), M Taylor (Swansea, capt), S Gibbs (Swansea), A Thomas (Swansea), N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff), R Moon (Llanelli), I Thomas (Ebbw Vale), B Evans (Swansea), D Morris (Swansea), G Jenkins (Swansea), A Lewis (Cardiff), I Gough (Newport), C Wyatt (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), G Lewis (Swansea), C Charvis (Swansea), N Budgett (Ebbw Vale), S Quinnell (Llanelli).

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