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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 18:05 GMT

Sport: Rugby Union

The wizards of Oz

Captain John Eales and scrum-half George Gregan lift the trophy

Phil Mercer reports from Sydney on the homecoming of the 1999 Rugby World Cup champions, Australia.

Australia's victorious Wallabies have enjoyed one of the biggest and most colourful homecoming parades in Aussie sporting history.

More than 150,000 fans turned out in Sydney to see their record-breaking side show off the World Cup it won 10 days ago.

The sky was filled with clouds of tickertape thrown from office blocks lining the route and the streets were littered with gold and green streamers as the players made their way through the city in a convoy of 15 pick-up trucks.

The procession was led by a marching police band, playing 'Waltzing Matilda' as the crowd roared their appreciation of their rugby heroes.

Sydney had never seen anything like it. A giant section of the Downtown area had been sealed off causing lunchtime traffic chaos in the surrounding streets. No-one seemed to mind.

The public address announcer could not resist a dig at the expense of antipodean rivals New Zealand, spectacularly knocked out by France in the semi finals.

He said; "If there are any Kiwis here today, get a good look at the Cup. It's the closest you'll ever get!"

Cheer for Eales

The loudest cheer went to captain John Eales, bringing up the rear with his deputy George Gregan. The smile never left the skipper's face as he held the trophy nicknamed 'Old Bill' high above his head for all to see.

"The whole squad knew while we were away we had backing throughout the whole of Australia. This today just proves it. It means so much!"

They were six-deep along one of Sydney's busiest thoroughfares George Street. Thousands more watched from offices high above as construction workers looked on from scaffolding.

The Wallabies 35 - 12 defeat of France at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff makes them the first team ever to win the Webb Ellis Trophy twice.

Tickertape madness

Tickertape processions here now greet world beaters from cricket to netball. Success in the rugby World Cup caps an incredible sporting year for Australia.

It seems everything this country touches turns to gold and green (the national colours).

They're the kings of cricket after beating Pakistan in the World Cup final at Lords in the summer and are world champions at hockey, rugby league, netball and baseball.

The country's senior tennis players get a chance to heap more misery on the French later this month in the final of the Davis Cup. Not bad for a nation of under twenty million people.

Sport mad

Sporting heroes here are treated like movie stars and are held in greater regard than most politicians.

It's almost inevitable the 'Australian of the Year Award' , given for outstanding achievement, is bestowed on a sportsman or woman.

This year it's the former cricket captain Mark Taylor. Next time around, you'll probably have to look no further than Aussie speed queen Cathy Freeman, especially if she wins gold in the 400 metres in the 2000 Olympics.

The only dark cloud on the glorious, clear blue sky of Oz sport is the Socceroos. The footballers lead by Manchester United's Mark Bosnich were humbled 2-0 by Brazil's under 23 side at Stadium Australia over the weekend.

But today was the day Sydney honoured the Wallabies, the world's greatest rugby team.

The team of '99 is being hailed as Australia's best ever. Certainly players like Tim Horan, John Eales and goalkicker Matt Burke will join the list of all-time greats. They'll get a chance to defend 'Old Bill' on home territory when the tournament comes Down Under in four years time.

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The wizards of Oz

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