Australia ease to World Cup glory
November 6, 1999
John Eales lifts the Web Ellis Cup after his Australia side defeated France
© Getty Images
If Australia ever do want to replace our Queen as head of state then Rod Macqueen might like to apply as his side made history, becoming the first team in the short four year history of the Webb Ellis Trophy to lift it twice.
They can thank Matt Burke's seven penalties and a try apiece from Ben Tune and Owen Finegan for their victory. With 13 wins apiece before this match it was to prove unlucky for France.
After the sustained excellence of both semi-finals this was poor fare by comparison, but few could begrudge Australia their win. Their sustained excellence throughout this tournament has earned them the right to be World Champions for the next four years.
France did everything they could in terms of effort but they were unable to touch the celestial heights they had reached in last weekend's thriller. The Australian defence buckled but never broke and the side that had conceded just one try all tournament kept another clean-sheet here.
France did everything they could in terms of effort but they were unable to threaten the Aussies. The match was not helped by official Andre Watson whose fussy style greatly hindered the flow of the game. He spent long minutes chatting to both captains when the time would have been better spent playing rugby.
France kicked off, Australia hoofed the ball upfield. One up and under from Xavier Garbajosa later, the first penalty and first points went to Christophe Lamaison with less than two minutes on the clock after Australia were judged offside at a ruck.
France kept up the pressure and the first Wallaby scrummage buckled but somehow George Gregan scrambled the ball away and earned a penalty in the process. Four minutes gone and the score was 3-3 thanks to Matthew Burke's boot.
Joe Roff then came within yards of the French tryline as the hectic opening continued. Steve Larkham's kick was charged down by Lamaison but the ball fell kindly for Matt Cockbain. The number six freed Daniel Herbert who released his winger. Only the speed of Philippe Bernat-Salles saved the day as he collared his opposite number five yards out.
The opening brace of penalties were swiftly followed by another one to each side. John Eales was yellow-carded for foul play and Lamaison did well to make good a tricky 50-yard opportunity. Then Tim Horan sliced open the thin blue line to set up Burke's second successful attempt.
There was no let-up in the breathless pace of the game as both sides had arrived to play rugby. Abdel Benazzi silenced the Aussie supporters when he found himself over the Wallaby line after Lamaison's cross kick, only to be called back for an Olivier Magne knock-on.
The match was a full-bloodied affair with Magne retiring for treatment before returning incognito, with surgical tape apparently all that was holding his nose to his face. Meanwhile both linesmen repeatedly intervened to keep heated tempers in check.
A needless penalty conceded by Marc Lievremont allowed Burke to nudge the Australian noses ahead by three points on 25 minutes and the French were lucky that the Wallaby fullback missed with another.
The game was still being played flat out, but perhaps too fast for much constructive rugby. Both sides had their moments but neither was willing to chance their arm on throwing all their resources into attack. The Wallabies were still grateful to flankers Wilson and Cockbain who held up one French maul just a couple of yards shy of the line. A penalty at the ensuing scrum allowed the Aussies to clear the danger.
However, Australia were overly generous with the ball, Larkham especially kicking away too much possession. One wayward clearence allowed Christophe Dominici to make the overlap on the right wing and Garbajosa had to be bundled into touch deep in the Wallaby 22 by fullback Burke.
It was entirely against the second quarter run of play that Burke kicked his forth penalty to stretch the Wallaby lead to six points at the break after Eales and Giffin had driven the French back with the ball in hand. If Australia could adopt similar tactics in the second half the French battle would be uphill.
The French replaced number eight Juillet with Olivier Brouzet in the hope that the 15 which destroyed New Zealand would produce the same second half magic against Australia.
France certainly looked lively after the break with Abdel Benazzi again leading the cavalry charge into the heart of the golden shirts. This tactic won a long-range penalty which Lamaison pushed, his first miss in two matches, and the Australians were on the attack. Steve Larkham ghosted past Lievremont with a beautiful shimmy but Garbajosa's tackle prevented a certain try. The Wallabies settled for Burke's fifth penalty and a nine point lead.
Dan Herbert was then replaced, but reinstituting the old Little-Horan centre partnership was never going to greatly inconvenience the Wallaby backs. Still the French refused to roll over and die. Lamaison kicked his third penalty after Benazzi (again) made inroads in the Aussie defence.
Joe Roff was finally released after the Wallabies had hammered at the French defence a dozen or more times. Larkham's inside flick sent the left wing on a diagonal run which took him over the French line only to drop the ball to the agony of all Australians, not least the 15 on the field.
Tim Horan's chip was then neatly intercepted by Bernat-Salles but the Wallabies accepted the gift of three points for a previous infringment in front of the posts. A score that was immediately cancelled by Lamaison's forth strike after the Aussies had handled in a ruck. Which was itself immediately cancelled out after the French flyhalf's challenge on Gregan was deemed dangerous. If this sounds boring, frankly that's because it was.
As though they realised this, the Autralians then produced some slick interplay between forwards and backs which is their trademark. This produced exactly what the game needed, a try. A series of drives brought the Wallabies into the French twenty-two. Then Gregan darted through a gap when retreating Frenchmen blocked his pass. The ball travelled through Horan and Finegan to Ben Tune who dismissed Garbajosa's challenge with indecent ease for a try in the right hand corner.
Burke converted and the French had a 16 point deficit to recover and just 15 minutes to do so and it was always asking too much. They harried and chased but the Wallabies pride themselves on their defence, and justifiably so. Instead it was Owen Finegan at the other end who brushed off tackles like some latter day Lomu for a try which give the scoreline a flattering look.
This Australian side has improved with each match in the World Cup. They have a matchwinners on their substitutes bench, never mind from 15 on the pitch. In John Eales, Matthew Burke and Tim Horan they have the three best players in the world at their chosen position. Ben Tune and Joe Roff also warrent scrutiny for that list. They came through the difficult half of the draw and when when you consider that Rugby Union is a poor third cousin to League and Aussie Rules down under the feat of winning two from the last three World Cups is truly astonishing.
They are worthy winners even if there was a certain irony in being presented with the Trophy by the Queen in the week Australia had held a referendum on replacing her.
Advance Australia Fair.