Wednesday 17 January 2018

Time for a moment of magic

Deans must let wizards off leash to counter All Blacks' threat

Mike Robinson

They are a mixed bunch, the Australians. They are Nick Farr-Jones -- analytical, skilled and competitive. They are Tim Horan -- accurate, powerful and direct. And then they are David Campese -- the larrikin, big mouth, the magic man, who will win you five games and lose you one.

How we dream of seeing another Campo under the lights tomorrow.

Twenty years ago Campese changed the future of rugby. It was the semi-final of the World Cup against New Zealand at Lansdowne Road.

In the first half, Campese picked up a chip and veered towards the touchline. On and on came the New Zealand defenders, greedy with thoughts of thuggish annihilation. Then the ball was gone, an off-the-shoulder pass to the supporting Tim Horan setting up a decisive try.

This World Cup needs a touch of the Campo, a moment of genius to place it in history.

Australia have the men to do it. Quade Cooper has been slapdash so far, but he can win Australia the game if coach Robbie Deans takes the lid off the box.

The trouble is that Deans is afraid of all the evils that might also escape if he opens up Cooper. And for now, most of Digby Ioane's notorious dance moves have been showcased in the privacy of his hotel room. The wing has wonderful feet, but the only one enjoying them at the moment is his room-mate Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Then there is James O'Connor, who is still only 21. His nickname in the squad is Justin Bieber, but he is a better performer than that.

O'Connor is blessed with the sort of Australian talent that we may not have seen since Mark Ella. There appears to be nothing that he can't do on a rugby pitch. But for now everyone is being very, very sensible.

Deans is trusting enough to pick the kids, even though Campese warned against it.

"The World Cup is not about a team of 22-year-old stars," said Campese, before the tournament began. "It is about experienced players who, when the pressure is on, can help guide the youngsters through.

"You won't win a World Cup with raw talent alone. You have to have a core of vastly experienced 28 to 30-year-olds. That is when you have a team. Look at South Africa in 2007, the Wallabies in 1991, South Africa in 1995, England in 2003 --players who have been around but are at their peak."

Deans disagrees, but he seems reluctant to let the kids off the leash.

He declined to pick experienced men like Matt Giteau, but now he has imposed a curfew. Maybe the Wallabies will win the World Cup the Deans way, the Canterbury way, by turning over ball at the breakdown, kicking to exert pressure and tackling everything that moves. But many neutrals will be hoping they do not.

The irony is that Deans is a product of New Zealand, the home of rampaging rugby. For his part, the coach insists any traces of Kiwi have long since been expunged.

"It's often suggested to me that I will have mixed emotions but I'm firmly embedded now (with Wallabies)," he said. "I've worked with this group for a long time, established connections. I'm committed."

Fear holds the key this weekend. Australia must prove they are not afraid to risk the mistake that will cost them the game, while the All Blacks have their own demons to banish.

Thirteen months ago a kid called Aaron Cruden made his first start in the black jersey. He choked and the management removed him for his own protection. The opposition was Australia.

Tomorrow, Cruden will make his second start for the All Blacks. "He's a year older and a lot more experienced and that's important," said coach Graham Henry.

"That was his first big Test match and he has learned from that experience. It's very seldom that people are the finished product at their first outing and you get better with age, as time goes on. He's a very good footballer now."

Centre Conrad Smith sympathised with his team-mate. "He's come into the side with not a lot expected of him," he reflected.

"I think he put too much on himself last time. You do when you play that position -- everyone expects you to run the team. But at the moment I think he's in a good space because he's just relying on the guys inside and outside him."

New Zealand also have game breakers all over the pitch. Ma'a Nonu and Smith can change a game with bludgeon or rapier. Piri Weepu is at last growing up. Richard Kahui is an elegant footballer.

Traditionally, the All Blacks are more willing to trust in their team's attacking ability: it is up to Australia to prove otherwise. The neutrals just want another Campo or a Jonah Lomu to go out there and win it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Australia v New Zealand, Live, RTE2/UTV/Setanta Ire, tomorrow, 9.0

Irish Independent

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