Monday, October 10, 2011

In the land of the long white cloud, sun belatedly shines for blessed, brave and bold Wallabies

Talent, producing under pressure and excellent man management are all integral parts of a victorious World Cup campaign. Luck also plays a crucial role.

During the Wallabies' two World Cup triumphs, good fortune came at important times. The 1991 team was blessed by being able to play consistent line-ups as they were not hit by any major injury crisis. Likewise in 1999, the World Cup winners had only a few niggles, some like Tim Horan dragging himself out of a sick bed to help the Wallabies win a semi-final, and then were given a leg up when France knocked out the All Blacks, and offered Australia a far more comfortable finale.

In the case of the 2011 team, it appears at last luck has turned their way. When a team has only 24 per cent of the territory and 44 per cent possession, does not actually string a proper back-line move together and their lineout fails to function losing five of its own throws, and they were still able to beat the defending World Cup champions, you have to say they're also blessed.
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The players know that. The reactions in the Wallabies dressing room were, not surprisingly, ones of shock.

As Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, who basically did not see the ball all day, said: ''I've got no fingernails left. This is just pure relief. I'm still shaking.'' Or Berrick Barnes, who again played with decorum off the bench, said: ''The sun was shining on us. Gee, we had to endure something in that second half, but thank God, we got the result.''

The Springbok camp were moaning about getting a rough deal from New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence, believing that the man of the match, Wallabies breakaway David Pocock, got away with murder at the breakdown, adding further to the belief that Australia are suddenly the Lady Luck side of the tournament.

But no one can say the Wallabies have had an easy ride. It appeared everything was working against the Wallabies making an impact in this tournament until Sunday. A lot of the bad vibes were self-inflicted, but they also had to overcome some tricky hurdles before securing themselves a semi-finals berth.

First there was the embarrassment of James O'Connor failing to make the World Cup squad announcement or official team photo after he went to one too many eastern suburbs pubs. That incident exposed the raw underbelly of the Australian team, and the resentment some in the broader Wallabies group felt towards the young breed, and the suggestion they were allowed to get away with too much.

That wound took some time to heal. Then when the Wallabies arrived in New Zealand, they were beset with injuries, none worse than just before the Ireland pool match. Digby Ioane went first, and on the day of the game, Pocock and Stephen Moore - two of the most important Wallabies forwards - were forced out through injury and illness.

Without this trio, the Wallabies were well short of their best, and it showed against Ireland, who bashed them and forced them into the tougher part of the finals draw.

The injuries also continued to pile up, to the extent that in two pool matches, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had only 24 players to choose from, prompting the unexpected but delightful selection of No.8 Radike Samo on the wing against Russia.

They somehow got through that, and even though injuries are still hovering, it is not so dire. And the bad vibes are now hitting the other countries, in particular the All Blacks, who apart from trying to stop certain players getting on the drink, are losing big names every day with a wide variety of ailments.

Maybe Barnes is right: the sun is at last shining on the Wallabies, and an unexpected tournament transformation is in the offing.

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