Welcome to Episode 34 of the Chewsday Chew.
I hope we’re all recovering from the Mr Creosote experience of rugby over the weekend. We certainly had the lot, in a bucket, with a wee wafer to the extent that I confess even my long-suffering wife looked sideways at my suggestion of watching the English v Argy game after dinner rather than The Block Auction. The things we do eh?
We need to remind ourselves that, as with winery tours and office lunches at a sushi train, prudent consumption and pacing ourselves is the key for this month long rugby-in-November yum cha. And that other temptation we all know better than to surrender to – conference hotel breakfast buffets – Old Mate in his apron at the omelette bar may well be beckoning but, after inhaling a few (well, six if I’m truthful) of those little pork sausages, going for one (oh ok, two) stabs of the serving fork at the bacon pan and having one-two-oh-why-not-three spoons of the scrambled eggs (plus there’s still that little plate of pastries in the middle of the table), it helps to remember that a little bit of restraint will go a long way in this marathon.
In other terms, I guess we’re now into full stride in the degustation of the annual northern menu; we had our ‘out of window’ Scotland hors d’oeuvres a fortnight ago and so then came the first real course of the French onion soup over the weekend. In polite company, that was the soup course was it not? And so bashing the metaphor to death I guess that means that this coming weekend we have the Italian Insalada before moving onto some prime Irish beef and pratie for the main and then round out with a Welsh Crempog cake for dessert (we should smash it, but it may prove a pancake and strawberry too far).
So we need to pace ourselves a bit.
To that end, I’m determined to talk about something a bit lighter today. I’m avoiding subjects that are just going to stir up our indigestion. As such there’s going to be no refereeing chat, no analysis of penalty counts, no hypothesising over the timing of replacements or even the worthiness of particular ‘starters’ compared to certain ‘finishers’ compared to some others simply sitting in the stands inhaling those dainty little French pastries. There will be no injury list summary. And I’m certainly not going to launch into my issues about how we can be 4pts up with 3min to play and still go on to lose the match.
I’ll leave that to others.
No, today I’m recognising that, indeed while we could’ve/would’ve/should’ve won that bloody game on the weekend (for once I agreed with Drew Mitchell would you believe?), it was nonetheless a cracking good game that came down to the absolute wire.
And it did have everything from the absolute get-go.
I mean words fail me to explain the power it takes for a tighthead to lift any loosehead clean up off the ground in any scrum at any level. But there we had Tupou, heavily derided in some quarters of late for being unfocussed and a borderline showpony, put one of the world’s best looseheads in near orbit in the first scrum of the game. And the hits, skill and calamities came from there to make that an absolute cracker of a game to watch. In the midst of it we saw two much maligned Wobbly servants in Hooper and Foley jolt a knock-on out of the French when they looked perilously close to scoring, we saw why Skelton justified selection with his maul disruptions, defender magnetism and the general defensive panic he still then forced in the French d-line with deft little offloads, and we even saw our replacement front row drive through and force a tighthead scrum in the last minute of the match to open the door for a game changer.
But alas, we also saw penalties being given away for free, the French raid our ruck ball seemingly at will, piggies kicking with predictable outcomes (really? REALLY?) some highly questionable timing of replacements, not straight lineouts at critical moments where ‘bread and butter’ would have sufficed and just basic poor tackle technique.
In the midst of it we also saw what has been touted as the likely try of the year to Foketi:
But in the end, with some brilliant dash and daring as only the French know how, we saw those bloody diving surrender monkeys pinch what I was convinced was going to be a famous Australian victory for the ages.
And it got me thinking about some of the other absolutely amazing games we have played against the French over the years…
One of the first to spring to mind was of course the 1999 World Cup final, won 35-12 by Australia. Besides the cracking tries from Ben Tune and the timeless charge of Owen Finegan, let’s not forget that John Eales actually threatened to take the Wallabies from the field if the veritable tsunami of foul play from Les Bleus did not abate. The match was also remarkable in that match Matthew Burke scored 25 points (all off the boot), a record in a World Cup final (Handre Pollard scored 22pts in 2019).
Another match that pundits ‘of a certain age’ will surely recall was 13 June 1987 and the World Cup semi final at newly minted Concord Oval in Sydney. Australia, the raging favourites, had led 9-6 at halftime, but see-sawing scores throughout the second 40min left the crowd breathless with a 24 all scoreboard with two minutes remaining. Unfortunately, Scottish referee Brain Anderson, without the help of a ‘check check’ TMO in those days, chose this moment for infamy when he missed a blatant knock-on by French No8 Laurent Rodriguez which then opened the door to an 11 player passing extravaganza of open play French running rugby culminating in a brilliant dive in the corner try to Venezuelan-born Serge Blanco to steal the match (final score 30-24). Bastards.
And of course, we have to mention the 1st test from 09 June 1990 wherein Peter FitzSimons exchanged pleasantries with about half the French team and subsequently had difficulty chewing for some time afterwards.
But this list wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging what former Wallaby assistant coach Bob Templeton called his favourite Wallaby victory ever: the win over Les Bleus in Strasbourg in 1989. this match has been cited in some circles as perhaps the most underrated achievement in the history of Australian rugby.
Essentially, with five players making their debuts (Rod McCall, Peter FitzSimons, Jason Little, Brendan Nasser and Darren Junee) the Wobblies got off to a wobbly and disjointed start. The Wallabies found themselves trailing 12-3 and France essentially had the Test in a vice. However, cometh the moment cometh the man (or in this case ‘men’) and so Michael Lynagh hoisted a high ball which Greg Martin contested, won and offloaded a near miraculous pop-pass to Jason Little who promptly took off in that loping gait we came to know so well. In full flight, Patrice Lagisquet tackled Little brilliantly (no mean feat in itself) but, in falling and without looking, Little offloaded over his outside shoulder to Horan who scooted the remaining 15-20 metres to score his first international try. At that point the shackles came off and that most famous of combinations in Tim Horan & Jason Little flourished behind an increasingly dominant Australian pack to thoroughly outplay their French counterparts Franck Mesnel and Philippe Sella, then widely regarded as the premier centre combination in world rugby, and lay the foundation of such an unlikely victory. Final score 32-15 to the Wobblies.
Anyway, there’s something to have a chew and a chat over. Am I right? Were these the best of the Wobblies and Frogs matches? Were there better? What do you recall?