Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Aussies brace for crunch time on the eve of opener

RUGBY WORLD CUP After the color and spectacle of the tournament's opening ceremony, the match is likely to be a brutal clash of two packs of world-class forwards

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIAAP, TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA

Australian Wallabies captain George Gregan, right, and Matt Giteau during the captain's run and final training session at Telstra Stadium yesterday ahead of tomorrow night's curtain raiser against Argentina in the Rugby World Cup.

PHOTO: EPA

Defending champion Australians want to enjoy the opening match of the Rugby World Cup. Argentina is aiming to spoil the party in front of a sellout crowd at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.

"We are expecting a very physical, tough encounter," Wallabies captain George Gregan said Thursday. "That's an area they pride themselves, specially ... up front."

Australia's season heading into rugby's quadrennial showpiece has been a let down -- losing four of its seven games this year, including a humiliating 50-21 thrashing by New Zealand at the same venue. But Gregan says the team has shrugged off the disappointment of this year's losses and is ready for its bid to become the first nation to win the tournament three times and also back-to-back.

"This year's always been about the World Cup and it starts tomorrow night and ... the whole team's looking forward to it," Gregan said.

The Wallabies have "very strong belief and a really good work ethic and I think if you put those two together you'll get good results. Maybe not short term but long term you will and that's certainly been a very pleasing part of the team the whole year."

Argentina has left its goalkicker Gonzalo Quesada, top scorer at the last World Cup four years ago, on the bench, replacing him at fly half with Felipe Contepomi.

"We think that for this game and the kind of play Australia can propose Felipe will be better in this spot," coach Marcelo Loffreda said this week. "We consider Quesada's kicking is strong, but we believe that Felipe is as close to Quesada as far as kicking is concerned."

Argentina reached the quarterfinals at the 1999 World Cup and goes into this 20-nation tournament as Pan-American champion.

"We have improved a lot since the last World Cup and I think we're ready to play a good game against Australia," Quesada said. "I don't think we'll have many chances against them but Australia may feel the pressure of being hosts and defending champions and maybe, just maybe, with a little luck that will count against them."

The Wallabies, who are in Group A along with Argentina, Ireland, Namibia and Romania, will be hoping Contepomi has a similar game to the last time the two sides met -- in November last year when he missed seven of nine kicks as Australia won 17-6 in Buenos Aires.

For the Wallabies, Elton Flatley will take on the kicking duties.

Gregan, who will be playing his 90th international, said his team also would like to put on a good performance out of respect for the 88 Australians who were among 212 people killed Oct. 12 last year in a terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia.

Veteran lock and vice captain David Giffin, another veteran of the 1999 winning team, said the younger members of the front eight were ready for the tough Puma style.

"You can't run away from that contest," he said. "The contest is going to be there whether you want it to be or not. You've just got to front up and take part and try to get the better of your opposition."

Australia goes into the match as favorite, but is an underdog for the tournament behind favorites New Zealand and England, which kick off their campaigns Saturday and Sunday. If the tournament pans out as expected, the Wallabies will meet the All Blacks in the semifinals.

If their forwards can win the battle with the Puma pack, the Wallabies have a strong running backline with Stephen Larkham at fly half, Flatley and Matt Burke in the centers and Joe Roff, playing in his third World Cup, on the left wing.

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