Peter Bills' World Cup blog: Momentum with the Australians
Just the second day of spring in Australia today, yet it was 21C in Sydney!
I went to watch the Wallabies train at Coogee Oval, home of the famous Randwick club. It really isn’t hard to understand why Australia consistently produces so many backs of world class.
On firm grounds where the sun shines, conditions invite running rugby. And haven’t the Australians produced some marvellous fly halves, wings, centres and full-backs over the years?
As I watched Kurtley Beale counter attacking hard out of defence this morning, I was reminded of guys like David Campese and the famous Ella brothers who once played on this great ground.
The Ellas and ‘Campo’ were of course legendary. And last night on Australian TV, I was reminded of another great talent that rugby union once unearthed. Wally Lewis became a legend in rugby league but as my host, another ex-Randwick and Australian half-back Brad Burke reminded me, Lewis went on the 1977 Australian Schoolboys rugby union tour of the UK.
Lewis was sensationally quick and strong and he eventually carved out a fabulous career in league after turning professional. Incidentally, another former union and then league star, Russell Fairfax, was also at Wallaby training this morning, doing TV work.
Fairfax was a great talent too, and another lost to the professional ranks when rugby union was still an amateur sport in those days.
Australian rugby is bubbling right now. They beat New Zealand in Brisbane last weekend to win the Tri-Nations title for the first time in 10 long years. And the Queensland Reds won this year’s Super 15 title, after beating the Crusaders in the final in Brisbane.
Can the Wallabies make it a glorious hat-trick of triumphs in 2011 at the Rugby World Cup? Who knows?
I congratulated coach Robbie Deans on his team’s fine rugby in the Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane. He smiled but Rob is a canny operator. “Oh, we’ve got a long way to go, a long, long way” he said, politely dismissing the praise.
Well, in the sense that this is a young Australian squad, he is right. But the New Zealanders are not fooled. Even before New Zealander Deans led the Australians to their Tri-Nations success last weekend, many Kiwis had expressed the fear that the former Crusaders’ coach could return to his home country and ruin the All Blacks’ intended coronation as new World Champions.
They could yet be right because the Aussies clearly have great momentum going into this 7th World Cup.
I chatted to Beale and Rocky Elsom once training finished. Rocky took one look at me and enquired ‘Mate, when did you get in’?
‘Er, last night at 8pm, 21 and three-quarter hours after leaving London’ was my reply.
‘And wide awake at 4am’ he asked?
‘Yep, spot on’. Elsom has done the London-Sydney flight often enough to know the score.
Also at training was the Wallabies’ flying Waratahs’ wing Drew Mitchell. Great to see him running free again after that horrendous broken leg he suffered early in the Super 15 season.
A nice story about Mitchell to finish...
In 2007 at Marseille, the morning after Australia’s World Cup quarter final defeat by England, I was talking to Michael Foley, the Wallaby assistant coach and a great mate. Behind me at the hotel stood my then 16 year-old son, James.
Mitchell came up, tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘Mate, do you play rugby’.
James said ‘Yes’, and was promptly presented with Mitchell’s white, puma leather boots he had worn the previous day. He signed them both and they are still a cherished item for a rugby mad guy.
An extremely gracious touch by Mitchell, a very nice guy...