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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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