Wallaby warrior defends tradition

Simon Turnbull sees Macqueen's new boys embody spirit of forebears
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The Independent Online

When he is not busy working with his Wallabies, Rod Macqueen can be found offshore from the Pittwater beaches north of Sydney, rowing surfboats for the Collaroy life-saving club. He can also be found studying the teachings of Sun-tzu. In fact, in his development of his national team, the Australian rugby union coach has been greatly influenced by the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher. He has, he says, always kept in mind the dictum: "In planning, never a useless move; in strategy, no step taken in vain."

When he is not busy working with his Wallabies, Rod Macqueen can be found offshore from the Pittwater beaches north of Sydney, rowing surfboats for the Collaroy life-saving club. He can also be found studying the teachings of Sun-tzu. In fact, in his development of his national team, the Australian rugby union coach has been greatly influenced by the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher. He has, he says, always kept in mind the dictum: "In planning, never a useless move; in strategy, no step taken in vain."

There have been few useless moves in planning and not many strategic steps taken in vain by the Wallabies in the three years and two months of Macqueen's tenure as coach. He picked up the pieces of a team that had been torn apart by the Springboks, 61-22 in Pretoria in August 1997. And, by meticulous design, the former New South Wales flanker has constructed the most efficient machine of a team in international rugby.

That much was confirmed when they were last seen on these shores, squeezing the creative life out of the French in the World Cup final 12 months ago, and it was underlined in the summer when the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations Trophy were added to the Aladdin's Cave of a trophy cabinet at the Australian Rugby Union's headquarters, Rugby House in North Sydney.

Macqueen's first act was to hire a rugby league man, former international John Muggleton, to help to build a water- tight defence. "He has put such a good system in place that when he finally walks away, the success should continue," Ian McGeechan said last week.

We shall soon see. Macqueen has announced his intention to retire at the end of next year. His aim is to hand over a team halfway towards a successful defence of the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil, though the odd less-than-useful move and vain strategic step was only to be expected at Murrayfield yesterday. With a third of their World Cup winners now retired, the Wallabies are in transition and it showed, especially in the static first half as Scotland tried to catch them on the hop.

It didn't help that, in addition to nursing new and newish boys into his Test team, Macqueen was without his half-back axis, the injured George Gregan and Stephen Larkham. Their stand-ins, the raw young scrum-half Sam Cordingley and the ageing utility man Rod Kafer, were caught standing still on the rare occasions that a chink appeared before the break. The Australians were static up front, too, leaving the youthful successors to Tim Horan, David Wilson and Richard Henry - respectively Stirling Mortlock, George Smith and Bill Young - little chance to show their worth.

Something had to give and Macqueen's half-time reshuffling of his pack provided the initial momentum. As was the case when the Wallabies were last in town, though, when they were held 8-8 at halfway before galloping off to a 37-8 win, it was the charging play of their No 15 that proved the vital catalyst. Three years ago Larkham played a fulcrum full-back role. Yesterday it was Chris Latham who slipped through a gap for the breakthrough try 10 minutes after half-time.

The chance, encouragingly for Macqueen, came from a slick Mortlock pass. In his international debut season, the 23-year-old had already made an impact, as the fastest ever Wallaby past the century points mark and as the scorer of a Tri-Nations-clinching late penalty in Durban. The more he saw of the ball yesterday, the more he looked a suitably promising long-term heir to Horan in the inside-centre berth. His rifling mis-pass created an overlap for the second of the three tries, claimed in the left corner by Joe Roff, who then set up Matt Burke on the opposite wing.

There were signs of hope for the future for the Wallabies, not to mention the Hopetoun Cup - another prize for the Macqueen trophy cabinet.

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