Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby World Cup: Wallabies have Springboks on the hop

Ascendancy at the breakdown, composure and consistency through 80 minutes - that's how the Wallabies can beat the Springboks tonight in the Rugby World Cup quarter final, according to two who should know.

The coach/captain combination of Rod Macqueen and John Eales led Australia to Rugby World Cup victory in 1999. The two teams met then too, in a semifinal rather than quarter-final. Australia won 27-21 in a tryless match but only after extra time after finishing 18-18. Stephen Larkham's final drop goal from 40m clinched it.

Macqueen says the key to maintaining composure in those circumstances is conscientious preparation: "By the time a team gets to the last eight in a World Cup, they've been together a while. Most teams should have talked about all the 'what ifs' leading into a match of this magnitude.

"For instance, in 1999 we knew if it was drawn at the end of extra time, we would progress because we had had fewer players sent off during the tournament. That meant we already ran back out with an advantage."

The 61-year-old Macqueen, who has moved from Melbourne Rebels coach to consultant for their second season, says Wallaby minds first need to be concentrated on other aspects of the match.

"Ascendancy at the breakdown is the most important thing in the modern game. Whoever controls that area generally wins.

"The Australian backs are capable of finding gaps but only if they have the ball. The decision on who goes in to forage is important. Obviously [openside flanker] David Pocock is one but he needs support."

Macqueen says the Wallabies need to take heart from their 14-9 victory over the Springboks in Durban during the Tri Nations.

"South Africa might be world champions but Australia has had their measure of late, winning the two contests this year. South Africa would need to step up to win. Australia deserve to be favourites, especially with [Francois] Steyn and [Bakkies] Botha out.

"The World Cup is about timing; a team needs to peak. It's like England in 2003. They nearly blew it because they were a better team the year before."

Macqueen says one Australian problem is inconsistency: "For whatever reason, that is the case but something like the World Cup can help because the players are together a long time. They have also been fairly consistent with their positions, injuries aside.

"This team is capable of special things; they have the ingredients to pull it off. Just look at the names in the backline - Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Quade Cooper - they've all got the ability to produce something extra."

Like Macqueen, Eales wants consistency in selection and performance from here.

"We have to do what we're already doing. Don't get distracted by the moment; it's irrelevant whether it is the first or 81st minute [in injury time]. These types of games, when there is so much at stake, require 80 minutes of excellence, not just patches of it, as happened in the Irish loss."

The ground in Wellington has fond memories for the Wallabies. It is where Eales kicked his injury time penalty goal in Stirling Mortlock's sudden absence to retain the Bledisloe Cup in 2000.

"I'm one from one at that ground - a 100 per cent record," Eales laughs. "I'm lucky I haven't had to make another kick to ruin it. I just concentrated on what I knew, took myself out of the situation, got back to my style, rhythm and what you know works."

Australia could take heed.

- Herald on Sunday

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