|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Australia shut their critics up
Paul Tait in Sydney | November 16, 2003 03:17 IST
The defending World Cup champions answered their abundant critics on Saturday with an emphatic defensive performance to shut favourites New Zealand out of their semi-final.
Australia had been roundly criticised by local media and fans and all but written off by bookmakers after losing four of their last five Tests before the World Cup, beating Ireland by a single point in their final pool match, and then being stretched by Scotland in the quarter-finals.
But the Wallabies put that criticism behind them to produce by far their best performance of an otherwise indifferent year, reversing two Test losses to New Zealand this year to win 22-10 and set up a World Cup final against either England or France.
"There's always going to be criticism in sport," delighted Wallabies captain George Gregan said. "The most important thing is the belief within the team, it's very strong."
Wallabies coach Eddie Jones had borne the brunt of most of the criticism, mostly for the constant changes he has made to the team and for his multi-million-dollar gamble of a back three of rugby league converts Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri.
"You can draw that down the line on my performance, I'm happy to accept that criticism and I'm not happy to accept praise," Jones told reporters.
"The team deserves the praise on their performance tonight and we'll just get on with preparing for an important game next week."
Australia were hammered by a record 50-21 margin by New Zealand in their first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney this year, but followed that with a much improved performance in the return match at Eden Park in Auckland in August, pushing New Zealand to the limit before losing 21-17.
Jones pointedly refused to say what his team had learned from that Eden Park comeback.
"I'm not going to tell you because we are going to play New Zealand again," Jones said. "The last time I said it, I remember saying it at a press conference and people laughed at me, so you can enjoy your laughter."
Australia's biggest lesson from that match appeared to be a total commitment to defence. Three times in the second half New Zealand put together 10 or more phases of play in Wallaby territory, only to be thwarted by an unwavering defensive line.
The return of centre Stirling Motlock was also critical. Mortlock missed seven months this year after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction.
"That's probably his best World Cup performance and I think he'll play better next week," Jones said.
Gregan said his players were excited about becoming the first team to reach back-to-back World Cup finals.
"We're excited about that and we know we are going to have to raise our game again," he said. "We put in a big effort this week, a smart effort as well."