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Rugby World Cup 1999 :
Aussies Capture the Cup

By Adrian Porter

CARDIFF, WALES, 8 November 1999- It was too much to expect that the final of the World Cup between France and Australia would be as gripping and dramatic as the semi-finals between France and New Zealand. As it happened, France failed to come anywhere near their performance against the All Blacks and lost 12 - 35.

The defence of both sides set the pattern of play and, try as they might, the French were unable to repeat the flair and opportunism of their game against New Zealand. France's renowned "rugby with a champagne fizz" was firmly corked by Australian determination to win by stifling open play and slowing the pace.

The French didn't even use the chip and run tactics which they used to effect against New Zealand. They may have felt, of course, that the Aussies had sussed that one out and were ready to counter. But they could, at least, have tried.

The result was a scrappy game of errors and smothering tactics which may have entertained spectators who actually like watching the inevitable penalty kicks. It may have been a victory for Australia but it was a defeat for the kind of fast, open rugby that excites the crowds.

It is indicative of the Australian style of play and their formidable defence that only one try was scored against them throughout the tournament. And that was Juan Grobler a centre in the U.S. team. He is tipped as an up-and-comer in the rugby world. So, an American, though bearing what sounds like a South African name, could well become a hero - if an unsung one - in a country where rugby is a minority sport.

So, both of the tries scored in the final came from Australia. They were workmanlike rather than dazzling and one of them was almost an afterthought. There were also a few attempts at what became a feature of the tournament - the use of drop kicks to take the aerial route past strong defences.

Jannie de Beer of South Africa showed it to be almost an art form but it is still no substitute for slinky running, break throughs and sprints for the try line.

Luckily, there were a couple of occasions when the brilliance of Australia's veteran centre, Tim Boran, almost saw him tear a hole in the French defences. With his tremendous acceleration and eye for an opening, he exudes a star quality which was recognised by naming him "Man of the Tournament"

If there had been an award for the best captain of the tournament., it would surely have gone to the Australian captain, John Eales. As always, this six foot seven inch lock forward was there to take the ball in the lineouts to force the French backwards in rucks and mauls, and of course, to rally, lead and inspire his team.

He not only towered physically over everyone as he went to collect the winners' golden "Webb Ellis Trophy" he also towered, metaphoricaly speaking, over most of his peers. It's not for nothing he is called "nobody" - for, as the saying goes, "Nobody is perfect".

Under his leadership, the Wallabies are a good-natured, modest, friendly bunch and a far cry from the hackneyed description of the well-balanced Aussie as one with two chips on his shoulder.

French dirty play

In fact, the Australian team were the largely unprotesting victims of another display of French dirty play in the rucks and mauls: biting, testicle-twisting, bootstud-scraping and, as demonstrated by the number of scratches and weals around Australian eyes, a lot of eye-gouging.

This fouling plus the defensive tactic of deliberately killing the ball in rucks and mauls when a try seems imminent must surely be the subjects of a review of the rules soon to be carried out by the game's administrators.

Admittedly, referees can and do award penalty kicks for such transgressions but the cynical rational of tactical penalties is simply that the sacrifice of three points from a penalty is better than the seven points which might have been scored and the opponents got the ball quickly and scored a converted try.

However, enforcing much-needed changes may be asking too much of members of the officialdom that runs rugby. Sports administrators, as a whole, are a pretty incompetent and unimaginative bunch of people. England's former captain, Will Carling, once described the Engish committee inelegantly - but memorably and accurately - as "a bunch of old farts". The genre is, alas, alive and well and living (just) in other parts of the world.

If proof were needed, officials of the Welsh Rugby union who were in charge - if that's not too strong a term - of the opening and closing ceremonies exhibited a degree of bad taste which would be difficult to surpass.

The closing ceremony was completely devoid of any sense of occasion; especially for those who remember the emotion kindled when South Africa won the cup in 1995 and Nelson Mandela appeared wearing a South African rugby jersey.

In Cardiff, the crowds were treated to Australian and Welsh singers long past their sell-by dates, unknown pop groups and meaningless dances by schoolchildren. The fireworks were almost as lacking in the festivities as they were on the playing field.

And talking of opening and closing; the Millenium Stadium was fitted, at enormous cost, with a sliding roof that can protect the pitch, players and people fronm the elements. The trouble was that the officials didn't think of closing it until the very end. In the meantime, heavy rain had fallen inside from time to time and the sodden grass made the playing field a slippery morass.

Luckily, the abiding memory of the tournament was the historic game between France and New Zealand.

I go along with the former French player, Thierry Lacroix. He said: "Towards the end of that incredible match, I looked around Twickenham to see a truly crazy sight: English spectators shouting and cheering for France, danicng jigs of joy, laughing and crying and letting all their emotions come out. Only sport can do this. I say to hell with politics and so-called Anglo-French animosity. Our players and supporters share a passion for a great game - rugby

Adrian Porter spent a working lifetime as a foreign correspondent for the BBC and other news organisations in various parts of the world. He writes on rugby and cricket for .

Opening article: Rugby World Cup 1999 : Forecasts and a Guide to the Game

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Opening Games Wrap-up

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Second Round Games Wrap-up

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Dirty and Vicious Play

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Argentina Upsets Ireland

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Quarter-finals Wrap-up

Rugby World Cup 1999 : France Triumphs Over New Zealand in Semi-finals

Read Adrian Porter's archive articles on the Cricket World Cup

Opening article: Domination is the Name of the Game
Results of 1st Week: A Commonwealth Row and High Tech Foul Up Cricketing Traditions
Results of 2nd Week: Umpires Upset Bookmakers With Excessive Wide Balls
Results of 3rd week: Zimbabwe and Bangladesh topple giants to make "Super Six" round
First week of the "Super Six" Pakistan and South Africa in arm-pumping finish
Second week of the "Super Six" Australia snatches victory from South Africa

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