Top of the ta­ble but not the best

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT - JAMIE PANDARAM JAMIE PANDARAM

THE ghosts of Men­doza have been well and truly buried, Wal­la­bies half­back Nick Phipps de­clared af­ter their stoic vic­tory over Ar­gentina.

Last Oc­to­ber, in this city, one of the most tu­mul­tuous pe­ri­ods in Aus­tralian rugby history be­gan, with the Kurt­ley Beale- Di Pat­ston spat ex­plod­ing be­fore the game, and then the over­whelmed Wal­la­bies los­ing the Test, giv­ing the Pu­mas their first Rugby Cham­pi­onship vic­tory.

The hol­low, quiet dress­ing room scenes in­side the bow­els of Es­ta­dio Malv­inas last year were re­placed by the Wal­la­bies hoot­ing, hol­ler­ing and singing along to cheesy pop mu­sic af­ter the 34- 9 win yesterday morn­ing.

It’s been a tough 12 months, but it’s great we’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion

NICK PHIPPS

“I was just sit­ting in there think­ing about how dif­fer­ent it is,” Phipps said af­ter walk­ing out of the Wal­la­bies change room. “It is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing to put that be­hind us, a new squad, new team, new coach­ing staff, we’re all re­ally happy to put that be­hind us. Now we can move on.

“It’s ob­vi­ously been a tough 12 months, but it’s great we’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion. We started at the very base of a never- give- up at­ti­tude, the boys are re­ally around each other, it’s a great mood at the mo­ment.”

Phipps said the vic­tory should fi­nally close the chap­ter on the ugly pe­riod that later saw coach Ewen McKen­zie re­sign, to be re­placed by Michael Cheika.

“Ev­ery­one is re­ally happy with what we’ve achieved here,” he said.

“Play­ing- wise, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to nail down es­pe­cially lead­ing into the game in two weeks.”

The Test against the All Blacks gives Aus­tralia the chance to bury another ghost – they have not beaten New Zealand in four years.

“We won’t get too ahead of our­selves, they’re top of the world for a rea­son,” Phipps said.

“They played re­ally well against South Africa, got them­selves out of some trou­ble over there, they just have ways of find­ing wins.

“I don’t think they played to their full po­ten­tial against South Africa, so they’ve got another level to go up again.”

Phipps should re­sume his tus­sle with Kiwi half­back su­per­star Aaron Smith, who took the points the last time the pair tus­sled in the Su­per Rugby semi- fi­nal last month.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to go­ing against him again, we love go­ing at it on the field,” he said. THE Wal­la­bies are lead­ing The Rugby Cham­pi­onship ta­ble and will have home groundg ad­van­tage in the tour­na­mentn de­cider against the All Blacks in a fort­night, but they ad­mit there re­mains an enor­mous gap be­tween the sides.

Aus­tralia’s 34- 9 bonus­point win against Ar­gentina, while de­liv­er­ing the re­quired points, was a far cry from New Zealand’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing come­from- be­hind 27- 20 vic­tory over world No. 2 South Africa in Johannesburg hours ear­lier.

That match was rugby of the high­est cal­i­bre, with the speed of the game, pre­cise move­ment of both sides, and first- class cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of op­por­tu­ni­ties mark­ing a clear line be­tween the top tworanked teams in the world and the rest.

Aus­tralia laboured to vic­tory with more scrum prob­lems and back­line un­cer­tainty. Two tries in the fi­nal three min­utes blew out the mar­gin in a game where the Wal­la­bies strug­gled to main­tain rhythm.

But while the Spring­boks were bril­liant, they have lost their two Rugby Cham­pi­onship Tests, al­low­ing the Wal­la­bies to set up a com­pe­ti­tion “fi­nal” against the All Blacks at ANZ Sta­dium on Au­gust 8.

Aus­tralia and New Zealand have nine com­pe­ti­tion points but the Wal­la­bies have a bet­ter points dif­fer­en­tial of one to lead the ta­ble.

“It’s two games, you look at the com­pe­ti­tion ta­ble af­ter two games, that’s not when it fin­ishes,” Wal­la­bies coach Michael Cheika said.

“This year it’s a lit­tle bit closer, but it’s very ob­vi­ous that New Zealand are the best team in the world, and I mean by a long way at this stage.

“We’ve got to work re­ally hard over the next cou­ple of weeks, plan well and re­ally make sure that when we run out at ANZ Sta­dium in a cou­ple of weeks’ time we’re ready to make Aus­tralian rugby peo­ple proud of how we play.

“We’ve got a few guys who will be back avail­able now, Wy­cliff Palu will be­come avail­able now as will Henry Speight,” Cheika said.

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