Wallabies scrape into World Cup final
October 30, 1999
Stephen Larham slots the winning drop-goal
© Getty Images
Australia and South Africa contested the semi-final for the World Cup in front of a Twickenham that was packed to the rafters. It just doesn't get much better than this. Unfortunately for the World Champion Springboks it just doesn't get any better than this as Nick Mallet's men fell at the second hurdle from home. They finally lost their proud record of never having lost a World Cup game to a Wallaby side that showed its grim determination in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Although they lost their grip on the cup the Springboks only did so at the end of a pulsating and utterly absorbing 100 minutes of rugby. The added time, the first in this World Cup, was won by Australia by 9-3 as they kept their composure in the face of some bizarre decisions from referee Derek Bevan.
When the best set of backs in the world fail to score a try then the match was obviously bitterly contested. These two sides know each other pretty well and with defences on top it became a facinating shoot-out between Burke and de Beer. One that the Australians, who always showed more enterprise, deserved to win but only did so with the greatest of difficulty.
Three minutes into this game and Australia were faced with the ominous sight of Jannie de Beer teeing up a penalty at goal after David Wilson stole a yard to clobber the flyhalf. He left it short and Australia's Matt Burke returned the favour minutes later missing a simple kick, as neither side could gain that psycologically important first score.
As was widely predicted after de Beer's kicking triumph in Paris, both sides attempted the drop-goal early in the match but neither de Beer or Steve Larkham could make them count in the swirling wind.
When it came the first score was started and finished by the Aussie fullback. Burke tore through the middle of the Springbok defence from second phase ball, bounced off Montgomery's challenge before slipping the ball to Tim Horan. Winger Ben Tune was then held short but a Springbok infringment soon gave Burke the chance to make amends which he duly accepted twelve minutes into the match.
The Wallaby backs were beginning to show their class. Horan was supposedly suffering from a stomach upset but he showed plenty of pace up the left wing after Robbie's Fleck's pass went to ground. Larkham was showing all the skills of the master magician he is, with one inside flick to Burke surprising even his own man.
The veteran centre Horan then created the second scoring chance for the Wallabies. He broke the midfield tackle of Andre Venter, about as rare as an eclipse, before wrong-footing Montgomery and only Fleck's desperate cover saved the day. Still Burke was gifted a simple three pointer when the retreating South Africans obstructed the Aussies' next move.
The high intensity running game was sprinkled liberaly with the less gripping kicking contest as both side attempted to play the game in the opposition half. Two penalties in quick succession from De Beer and Burke maintained the Wallaby's three point advantage. Wilson and Naka Drotske were the culprits.
South Africa then fluffed the best for a try. So concerned was the Aussie defence at the sight of de Beer standing deep in the pocket that they swallowed Van der Westhuizen's dummy and the scrum half scrambled to within five yards of the line. Had the number nine looked to his left he would surely have sent Pieter Muller under the posts.
A clearance kick was then charged down and Larkham chose that moment to knock on behind the posts. Bobby Skinstad's chip kick nearly put Pieter Rossouw into the left corner but the Wallabies eventually cleared when Os du Randt's hands let the side down.
Both sides were playing some attrractive rugby in the search for a try but the crowd had to settle for another penalty apiece as an absorbing half drew to a close. Burke flyhacked a loose ball clear of the danger area and Haran, player of the match so far, instinctively snatched the ball which flew his way, albeit from thirty yards offside.
Rassie Erasmus prevented release of the ball which even the back of the stand could see the act was illegal let alone Mr Bevan who was a couple of yards away.
The second forty started with a bang and it was Ben Tune who received it. Having fielded Van der Westhuizen's kick the winger dallied and was knocked into next year by Erasmus for his trouble. Daniel Herbert then charged down (yet) another de Beer drop goal and set off upfield. Half the players continued but Referee Bevan called them all back to the Wallaby twenty-two for de Beer to kick his third penalty of the match.
Minutes later de Beer finally hit one home as his drop goal dragged the Springboks level. Many will wonder what could have been had dy Randt passed to either of the two men outside him rather than allow the ever willing Gregan to topple him. He will be grateful to de Beer for making something from the position.
Having survived the early onslaught the momentum was now with the Springboks who might have been better served by running the ball back at the Aussie defence in broken play. If the Wallabies ever do offer a chink in the armour it is from broken play.
Van der Westhuizen came close to finding it for the second time. He took a quick tap penalty he might have asked de Beer to kick and the Australian defence was scabbling on the back foot. Wilson saved the day in getting his body under the ball in five yard maul.
With the teams level pegging going into the final quarter Robbie Fleck showed Houdini-like skills in escaping the grasp of the entire Wallaby pack. He darted through the middle untouched and Burke earned his pay-packet by stopping the centre before Larkham intercepted.
The flyhalf's eventual clearance from defence sent substitute Jason Little haring down the wing to force Rossouw into touch. From the a midfield ruck the referee appeared to penalise prop Ollie le Roux and Burke restored the Aystralian lead with thirteen minutes to play.
The Wallabies then laid siege to the South African line. John Eales went over only to be called back by Bevan and George Gregan came desperately close before conceding a penalty inches from the line. Altthough the scrumhalf might argue that he was unable to mave with his opposite number sitting on him.
Tim Horan has already won the World Cup at Twickenham and his break from the half way, just one of many, led to another Matt Burke penalty when the tiring Springboks encroached again. South Africa now needed a converted try to save their unbeaten World Cup record.
With the ground's security men already massing for the final whistle the Springboks' skipper ven der Westhuizen opted for three which de Beer duly kicked for him.
There then followed a moment of drama as Matt Burke dropped Gregan's pass near his line but substitute Albert van der Berg's enthusiasm wouldn't allow the fullback back onto his feet and the danger passed. However was small beer compared to what was to follow.
The referees have come under pressure in this tournament and where Derek Bevan found six minutes of injury time nobody could say. It wasn't until the eighty sixth minute, after the announcer had stipulated only two extra would be added, that de Beer lined up his fifth penalty attempt to level the scores. The cheers from the crowd indicated its success long before the linesmen did. It was the last kick of normal time, if a conclusion like this is in any way normal, and extra time loomed for the leg-weary.
Referee Bevan's generosity seemed to extend into added time which is set at two halfs of ten minutes. The penalty that de Beer kicked to claim the lead appeared to have been won by Van der Westhuizen's enthusiastic appeal rather than any Wallaby infringment.
Joe Roff's flying incursion after a set move in midfield gave Burke an early opportunity to level and the war of the boot and the fullback made no mistake. The exhausted players then had their misery compounded as the heavens opened and tired bodies became cold and wet ones to boot.
The two sides were still locked at twenty one apiece as they turned around for the last ten, when Steven Larkham struck. He was obviously watching last weekend's game and his drop goal travelled fully forty five yards before reaching the posts. The Wallabies went wild but there were still four anxious minutes to suffer. The Aussies survived and Burke even settled the issue with another late penalty.
Where the Wallabies found the energy to celebrate goodness only knows. Nick Mallet's side could not quite offer their coach the present he most wanted on his birthday. The groups who benefit most are probably New Zealand and France who must have relished the extra time handed to next weeks finalists far more than the poor players on Twickenham's turf. "Advance Autralia Fair" is the Aussie national anthem, and it would have been an injustice had Australia not advanced to the final today.
Scorers: Burke pen 8, Larkham DG de Beer pen 6, GD 1.