RWC 2015 Draw Spotlight - Australia
AUSTRALIA ON THE RWC STAGE
Australia are synonymous with success on the Rugby World Cup stage. As the first country to lift the Webb Ellis Cup twice, in 1991 and 1999, they were the undisputed World Cup kings of that decade and their record of only twice having failed to reach the semi-finals marks the Wallabies down as serial achievers.
All the more surprising, then, that since Australia’s legendary second row John Eales joyously hoisted the famous trophy aloft at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff 13 years ago, they have failed to lay claim to the world champions’ crown a third time.
Victory at Rugby World Cup 1999 was Australia’s finest hour. It was certainly their most convincing win and the manner of their 35-12 final demolition of France left everyone in no doubt as to which was the greatest rugby team on the planet.
With Eales and playmaker-in-chief Tim Horan backing up their RWC Final success against England in 1991, the French – who had stunned New Zealand in the semi-finals – simply had no answer as tries from Ben Tune and Owen Finegan, augmented by 25 points from the imperious boot of Matt Burke, ensured a record winning margin that will take some beating.
It also provided sweet revenge for Australia’s 30-24 semi-final defeat by France that had dashed their hopes of winning the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987. Australia had entered that tournament in fine fettle with world superstars such as David Campese and Michael Lynagh looking to prove a point.
But after rushing through their pool unbeaten and then knocking out Ireland 33-15, they were undone by an inspired French side courtesy of a dramatic last-gasp try from the peerless Serge Blanco that goes down in history as one of the greatest ever scored.
It was a cruel luck on the Wallabies, who went on to lose the third place play-off match to Wales. But in many ways it galvanised them ahead of Rugby World Cup 1991, which was hosted by the Home Nations and France.
After topping their pool with victories over Argentina, Western Samoa and Wales, the Wallabies went to Dublin and were given a major fright by Ireland before a late Lynagh try and conversion secured a dramatic, some would say fortunate 19-18 quarter-final win.
Australia then accounted for defending champions New Zealand 16-6 to set up a title decider with England at Twickenham. It was a match England were expected to win, but after suckering their hosts into running the ball against their better judgment, it was the Wallabies who prevailed 12-6.
England would gain their revenge at Rugby World Cup 1995, however, when a Rob Andrew drop goal sent the Wallabies crashing to a 25-22 quarter-final defeat. This was a chastening tournament for Australia, who had been up against it from the start after being beaten 27-18 by hosts South Africa. Victories over Canada and Romania provided no consolation whatsoever.
Again, though, failure only served to inspire the Wallabies and by the time the aforementioned Rugby World Cup 1999 came around, they were once more primed for battle. Romania, Ireland and USA were dismissed in the pool stage and after Wales had been soundly thrashed in Cardiff, revenge was gained against South Africa at Twickenham, where eight penalties from Burke and a drop goal from Stephen Larkham secured a 27-21 victory.
That set up the record victory over France, but since then Australia have been forced to wear the tag of unlucky losers. As the hosts of RWC 2003, they had to endure the misery of Jonny Wilkinson’s extra-time drop goal that denied them the chance of retaining their mantle as world champions.
They suffered a horrible case of déjà vu four years later when England again repeated the dose by battling to a 12-10 victory in Marseille. Then last year, in New Zealand, Australia bravely overcame South Africa 11-9 in the quarter-finals before losing out to their hosts and traditional rivals the All Blacks 20-6 in Auckland.
One thing for certain, though, is that Australia will come again.
In beating Namibia 142-0 at RWC 2003 Australia not only passed the century mark for points scored in a Test for the first time in their history (92 v Spain was their previous best), they also set a new record for the biggest winning margin in the tournament’s history. The Wallabies scored 22 tries that day – the most by any one team in a Rugby World Cup match. Mat Rogers contributed 42 of the points, putting him third in the all-time list for most points by an individual in a single match.
Australia hold the record for the longest run of matches (12) without defeat at the Rugby World Cup, stretching from the win against Romania in 1999 to the semi-final win over New Zealand four years later.
Goose-stepping to glory - David Campese lit up RWC 1991 with his individual brilliance. The Wallaby wing, famed for his mesmerising ‘goose-step’, saved his best for the semi-final against New Zealand, scoring one try and setting up another with an audacious over the shoulder ‘blind pass’ to centre Tim Horan.
Failing to front up - While Australia’s extra-time loss to England in the 2003 Final was hard to swallow, there was greater disappointment at the manner in which they were beaten by their old rivals in France four years later. England's front row of Andrew Sheridan, Mark Regan and Phil Vickery pulverised Australia at the scrum and laid the platform for a 12-10 victory.
"I don't know if you saw me, but I was on halfway, jumping up and down, doing pirouettes, and jumping up and down like a fairy. I was carrying on." - Centre Adam Ashley-Cooper explained his unbridled joy after Australia's thrilling last-eight victory over South Africa at RWC 2011.
Australia’s superb defence separated them from the rest in their second Rugby World Cup winning campaign of 1999. The Wallabies only conceded one try throughout the entire tournament: in the 55-19 win against the USA at Limerick.