THE FERRIE FILES
FOUR minutes to go in a World Cup quarter-final and, with a former Howe of Fife player having scored a vital try against them, the Wallabies were facing a shock exit from the tournament.
What happened next has gone down in the folklore of Australian rugby and has been cited by Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup-winning manager, as the perfect example of his T-CUP (Thinking Correctly Under Pressure) philosophy, which is often mistakenly defined as “thinking clearly under pressure”.
Ireland made mistakes that gave Australia the chance to clinch the victory and their stand-off and playmaker duly took it. To say the way they took it set them up to go on to beat the All Blacks and become world champions is fact rather than hypothesis because the match in question took place not a fortnight ago but 24 years previously.
Those Wallabies of 1991, shocked into action not by the then two-year-old Peter Horne and his then unborn future midfield partner Mark Bennett, but a try from Ireland flanker Gordon Hamilton who, like Horne, played for the Cupar club before moving into the elite game, met the All Blacks in a semi-final a week after Michael Lynagh hauled them out of the mire and went on to beat England in the final.
It is not lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy that Lynagh remembers as his career highlight, however. Instead he is most proud of the way, having taken over the captaincy with his half-back partner Nick Farr-Jones having been replaced, he and his team-mates handled the situation after going behind so late in that match. He was also particularly pleased that it was singled out by Woodward as such a shining example of what he believes in.
With Bernard Foley – whose head-to-head with All Black great Dan Carter will be crucial in this year’s final – having kept his head to kick the winning penalty when the opportunity in his side’s quarter-final arose, parallels with this year’s tournament are obvious, then – right down to the All Blacks being the defending champions – and for all that rugby and its players have changed almost beyond recognition since those amateur times, the current Wallabies can take inspiration from the achievements of their predecessors.
Stephen Larkham, who wore the gold No.10 jersey when Australia won the tournament for a second time in 1999 and is now on their coaching staff, reckons the current team is better than the one he played in, and while it is pretty pointless to make comparisons with that side, Lynagh’s 1991 winners or the 1984 Grand Slam team in which he was also a key figure, these Wallabies have, as they so often seem to do with their extremely limited resources as very much a minority sport in their country, timed their run to the World Cup perfectly.
In terms of their own efforts, rather than anything further back in history, they can draw upon having won the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship this season, beating the All Blacks on the way, while even in the course of this tournament there was a moment when the gap in the betting between them and the favourites closed to the point of being virtually non-existent when they took England apart in the pool match which ended the hosts’ interest.
Furthermore, unlike New Zealand, who trailed Argentina at half-time in their pool match, they did not concede a try to what is surely the best-ever Pumas side last weekend. New Zealand failed, for the first time ever, to pick up a try bonus point in a pool match that day, whereas the Wallabies scored four against them.
More than anything, though, Australia know that having been challenged week after week during this competition – and it is rare for a tournament-winning side not to have at least one close call – they have repeatedly managed to think both clearly and correctly when the big moments have come in matches.
DECIDING ROLE: Australia’s Bernard Foley and New Zealand’s Dan Carter