Planet Rugby

Wallabies pass all-star test

03rd December 2008 21:34

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Monty tackled Baa baas

Crunch! Percy Montgomery feels the Australian heat

The greener sections of Australia's touring squad passed a stiff Barbarians test with flying colours on Wednesday, beating an all-star Baa-baas side 18-11 at Wembley with a terrific show of physicality and defence.

It wasn't quite a vintage Barbarian game, both teams took it too seriously. The Barbarians did try to follow traditions for much of the game, but Australia's work at the tackle and breakdown meant there was no chance of a loose and open game.

Instead it morphed into a bludgeoning contest of Test match intensity, in which Australia's pack fronted up, the backs swallowed up the space and the opportunities, when they arrived, were clinically and brilliantly finished.

By the end of the match, Australia had made 146 tackles to their opposition's 104, which says a lot about the effort from the men in gold. George Smith was astonishing - a real point proven after his omission from the team to face Wales - Adam Ashley-Cooper once again proved his strength and versatility at inside centre, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau had one of those games where everything goes right.

18-year-old James O'Connor scored his first eight international points with three kicks out of three and had enough about his first display to suggest the potential for stardom. It was one of the brighter moments when he kicked his goals; each kick was put over with ice-cool concentration, each raise of the flags greeted with a grin as wide as Perth's Swan River estuary.

Quade Cooper also rose to his task; what he lacks in the finesse of Giteau he makes up for with the heart of Mortlock. The future is very bright for Australia.

For the Barbarians, it was patently obvious how much preparation affects professional rugby. Mark Regan told a television interviewer half-way through the match that the team had had two training sessions during the week and it was pretty obvious; once Australia had the upper hand at the rucks and had squeezed the Barbarian backs there was no plan B from the invitation side.

John Smit found it hard to hit his jumpers at the line-out, the scrum took time to settle and the backs were often found looking for runners who weren't there, with runners often seen flying off at some peculiar tangents. At times, it was a curious confederation of differing game-plans, mostly conflicting but occasionally tuning in.

Percy Montgomery, at the grand old age of 34, provided the first moment of thrill after seven minutes, with a lovely dummy and acceleration between two defenders. From the move, the Barbarians almost had the first try, with Jerry Collins slipping a pop for Bryan Habana to chip ahead, and Lote Tuqiri scrambling back to cover.

But it was Australia who drew first blood, when, from a turnover, Ryan Cross tore down the right before putting a cross-kick into the middle for Tuqiri to score on his return to action.

Schalk Burger and Collins, seeing the way Australia's defence was setting about their task, upped their game as well, giving us the treat of seeing the pair wreak their destructive havoc for the same team. Polota-Nau, not to be outdone, put in a monster hit on Collins, shortly after a wondrous reverse blind offload to Digby Ioane.

The intensity thus rose, and Cooper and Federico Pucciarello traded a couple of handbag swings on half-way after the former had felled Fourie du Preez with a shoulder charge. Pucciarello was promptly substituted - for going against Baa-baa tradition?

Montgomery and O'Connor shared four penalties leading up to half-time; as the intensity rose, so did the propensity to slow the ball down and other bits of skullduggery. Referee Chris White's balance in the face of it all was fantastic.

The Barbarians began the second half much the better, and finally yielded a try after a heavy spell of pressure when O'Connor's poor clearance was returned by Shane Williams, who stood the defence then passed inside for Collins to score. Francois Steyn, who also missed a penalty and three drops at goal, missed the extras.

Steyn's missed penalty forced the Barbarians to go hunting for a winning try rather than kick, but the more desperate they became, the more Australia targeted the loose rucks. From a turnover, the ball was sprayed out to Drew Mitchell who straightened, then set Lachlan Turner over in the corner.

It was all very good, but the win may also have come at a cost, with Matt Dunning's snapped achilles tendon expected to end his Super 14 next year, and prop Sekope Kepu tearing a pectoral muscle.

Man of the match: So many candidates. For the Baa-baas, Collins, Burger, De Villiers and Montgomery were all excellent. George Smith led Australia's defensive effort, O'Connor and Cooper get honourable early career mentions, Adam Ashley-Cooper covered an extraordinary amount of ground. But Tatafu Polota-Nau's effort in tight and loose was a cut above them all.

The scorers:

For the Barbarians:

Try: Collins

Pens: Montgomery 2

For Australia:

Tries: Tuqiri, Turner

Con: O'Connor

Pens: O'Connor 2

Barbarians: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Rico Gear, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Jerry Collins, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Johan Muller, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Census Johnston, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Federico Pucciariello.

Replacements: 16 Mark Regan, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Nick Koster, 20 George Gregan, 21 Ollie Smith, 22 Shane Williams.

Australia: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lote Tuqiri, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Richard Brown, 7 George Smith, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.

Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 David Pocock, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Lachie Turner, 22 Drew Mitchell.

Referee: Chris White (England)

Touch judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Steve Terheege (England)

TMO: Geoff Warren (England)

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