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Wallaby wonders: Aussie rugby

By Sean Davies
BBC Sport

Playing colours: Green and gold
Nickname: Wallabies
Rugby songs: Waltzing Matilda and more!

Wales v Australia

In the early days of rugby union it was felt, notably when planning Lions tours, that Australia would emerge as the major challenger to British and Irish sides on the world stage.

Indeed, when the first ever Australian Test was played against the touring British side of 1899, the Aussies ran out 13-3 winners.

That win came at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the Australians wearing the light blue of New South Wales along with the Australian crest.

For the second Test in Queensland, they wore the maroon of that state and controversially dropped a number of NSW players in favour of home state players - the British side went on to win the game and the series.

This in-fighting and the precocious and formidable development of New Zealand and South Africa soon threatened to eclipse the Australians at union, but throughout their history they have been renowned for an open, attacking approach to the game.

From rabbits to Wallabies

John Eales raises the Webb Ellis trophy at the Millennium Stadium in 1999
Australia were the first country to win two World Cups

The real body blow to Australian rugby union came in 1907 with the formation of the NSW Rugby League.

They poached star player Dally Messenger, and many of the crowds followed.

The 1908 party to tour Britain remained strong, though. They were dubbed 'rabbits' in the British press, but to counter this they came up with the nick-name that would stick with the side - Wallabies.

In their first Test against Wales, the tourists fell 9-6 at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Wallabies went on to claim the gold medal at the 1908 Olympic games in London, but on their return home 14 of the party signed for league clubs.

Waratah magic

The attractions of league and ravages of the First World War meant that in the 1920s union nearly died out in the rugby hotbed of Queensland.

To compensate, the NSW Waratahs produced a legendary team, whose 39 matches in this period would later be given Test status.

Amongst their notable successes in that period was an 18-8 win over Wales on their 1927 tour of Britain, with a side featuring the likes of Tom Lawton and Cyril Towers.

With Queensland back in the fold in 1929, the Wallabies of that year whitewashed the All Blacks in a series played in New Zealand.

Wendell Sailor
League stars have boosted the Wallabies in the professional age

Despite the defeat in 1927, Wales maintained their supremacy over the Australians by winning home Tests in 1947 and 1958.

In 1966 a Welsh team in the process of rebuilding lost to a talented and experienced Australian outfit for the first time, failing to capitalise despite leading for most of the game in Cardiff and going down 14-11.

Revenge was gained with Wales' first Test in Australia, a 19-16 success for the tourists in 1969, and two comfortable home wins followed in Cardiff in 1973 and '75.

Welsh aid

Wales were still on top in the battles between the two countries, but Australia's progressive attitude to sport helped a remarkable turnaround in the years to follow.

With Wales seen as one of the leading rugby nations in the world, Australia were not shy of taking their help and recruited Ray Williams to boost their coaching and development.

Rather than imposing an alien structure on the Australian set-up, the Wallabies took what was best from the Welsh coaching system and adapted it to the structure and strengths of the union game in their country.

A humiliating 11-16 loss to Tonga in Brisbane in 1973 also led Australia to start recruiting players from the South Sea islands, a policy that would bear fruit in the years to come.

Great schools sides emerged from Australia in the '70s, featuring the likes of the Ella brothers (Gary, Glen and Mark) and Andy Slack.

Their style would be characteristic of all Wallaby teams in the decades to come - fluent and dynamic, but coupled with an iron will to win.

Play-making would also have a distinctive Australian theme - the inside centre being used as a decision maker and game-breaker alongside the fly-half, perhaps the classic pairing being formed by Mark Ella and Michael Lynagh in 1984.

The table turns

Tom Shanklin takes on the Australia defence
Wales have suffered down under in recent years

Wales' 1978 tour to Australia was tight, but the visitors were not the same without the absent Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett.

The well-campaigned Wallaby pack admitted to wanting revenge after 1975 as, they claimed, their noses had been rubbed in the defeat everywhere they travelled in rugby-mad Wales.

The home side gained two tight victories, but bad feeling spilt over when Graham Price's jaw was broken by a punch from behind from Steve Finnane in the second Test.

Andy Slack claims that his side's winning drop goal in the first Test actually went to the right of the posts.

A rare Richard Moriarty try at the Arms Park in '81 saw Wales to an 18-13 success over the Wallabies, but it was the end of the golden era for the Dragons.

The touring Australian side of 1984 under innovative coach Alan Jones has its place in rugby folklore assured.

Playing with style and purpose to devastating effect, their young backs cut loose to record the grand slam over the four home unions and defeat a strong Barbarian outfit.

Their 28-9 destruction of Wales in a sodden Cardiff Arms Park included a Mark Ella interception try from Eddie Butler, and a virtuoso performance from new scrum-half Nick Farr-Jones.

The defining moment for the home side was when they conceded an embarrassing pushover try from a short-range scrum.

Third in the world

The powers that be in Welsh rugby refused to acknowledge the growing chasm between northern and southern hemisphere rugby, and this self-enforced blindness was perhaps encouraged by a classic win over Australia in the 1987 World Cup.

In many ways it was a meaningless match - a third-place play-off game in Rotorua, supported by thousands of Kiwis who became Welsh for the day!

Wales had been trounced in the semi-final with New Zealand, while Australia had lost at the death to France in one of the greatest games of rugby ever played - the omens for the men in red were not good.

Australian flanker David Codey was sent off in the opening minutes of the match, but the Wallabies led for the majority of the game.

In a thrilling finale, Cardiff wing Adrian Hadley crossed in the corner for a try beautifully converted by Paul Thorburn.

Wales won 22-21 to return in triumph as 'the third best team in the world'.

Black times down under

Brett Sinkinson stretches for Tim Horan in the 1999 World Cup quarter-final
Australia's class proved too much for Wales in the 1999 World Cup

Reality had dawned by 1991 when Ron Waldron's Wales embarked on a disastrous tour down under.

With the camp split and fighting amongst itself, Wales collapsed to a 71-8 defeat against New South Wales before losing the Brisbane Test 63-6.

Immediately after the tour Waldron quit on the grounds of ill health.

Added to the disasters of the tour was the fact that Wales had to face the Aussies again in Cardiff that year, during the group stages of the World Cup.

After the devastating defeat against Western Samoa it was a game the home side had to win to progress in the tournament, but they were outclassed in all areas.

World champions

The Wallabies cruised to a 38-3 win. There followed a scare for them in Dublin against Ireland, but they eased past New Zealand in the semi-final.

England faced them for the final in Twickenham and - with the aid of a classic sledging campaign - Australia battled out a 12-6 win and became the second team to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.

Another Aussie win at the Arms Park followed in 1992, a game that included a memorable David Campese try.

The Wallabies' defence of the World Cup in South Africa in 1995 was a rare disappointment for them.

An opening defeat against the fired-up home side was followed by a knockout-stage exit against England and the boot of Rob Andrew.

Whipping Wales

Their record against Wales just continued to improve, though. Another disastrous tour of Australia in 1996 saw the men in red battered in Brisbane and slaughtered in Sydney.

It was closer when the Wallabies came to the Arms Park later in the year.

A Gareth Thomas interception try raised the home team's hopes of success, but in David Campese's 101st and final Test the men in gold rallied to a 28-19 win.

That was the last encounter between the sides before their quarter-final meeting in the 1999 World Cup.

Cool Cymru mania

If the Wallabies were again strong favourites, this time there seemed at least a glimmer of hope for Wales.

Graham Henry had built a strong team based around a formidable, heavyweight pack and - in front of a fervent crowd at the height of Cool Cymru mania - in Welsh dreams the chances were good.

Elton Flatley
Elton Flatley's kicking nearly denied England the 2003 RWC

Wales were strong, experienced and well prepared, but completely lacking in the unexpected, inspirational qualities that win world cups.

Such skills were held by the Wallaby midfield pairing of Stephen Larkham and Tim Horan, and this, allied to the team's all-round footballing ability and desire to win, saw the Aussies to a 24-9 success.

Again Australia coach Rod Macqueen held the upper hand over long-time rival Graham Henry.

Champions again

All their fighting qualities were needed for a bruising 27-21 semi-final win over the Springboks, and the final was a 35-12 walkover against a France side exhausted following their epic semi with New Zealand.

To become the only team to have won the World Cup twice (and neither time on home soil) was an incredible achievement for a country with so few union players.

Below Super level there are hardly any professional players, but they have their structure right, the talent is nurtured and developed, and driving it all on is the ultra-competitive Australian attitude to sport.

After 1999 the Wallabies continued to ride the crest of a wave worthy of Bondi Beach.

Rebuilding

Wales celebrate victory over Australia in 2005
Wales will be eager to repeat their triumph of 2005

After despatching the Lions of 2001, sheer force of character drove them to reclaim the Tri Nations as they rebuilt with legendary players like John Eales on their way out.

They were an unfancied side going into the 2003 World Cup on home ground, although they hammered Wales 30-10 in Sydney in the build-up.

Their aggressive, hard-nosed approach saw them overcome a team of All Black 'Galacticos' in the semi-final.

It was a tournament that an England team at the peak of their powers were destined to win, but the Wallabies stayed with them all the way, Elton Flatley's boot forcing the final into extra time before Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal tore the Webb Ellis trophy from their grasp.

Results afterwards were mixed, and former coach Eddie Jones was criticised for failing to ally a ball-winning pack to his hugely talented back line.

The lack of a serviceable Wallaby scrum played a large part in Wales' thrilling 24-22 victory at the Millennium Stadium in 2005, the men in red's first win over the green and golds since 1987.

Australia brought a weakened squad to Wales in the autumn of 2006 and saw their dirt-trackers fall to defeat against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.

Wales found themselves as favourites going into the Millennium Stadium Test, but after a lightning start by the Wallabies it took a remarkable introduction from the bench by rising star James Hook to turn the game the hosts' way.

The outside-half looked to have guided his team into a winning position, but the genius of Chris Latham got Australia back into the match, and a 29-29 draw was a fair result.

It took a last-second Stephen Hoiles try to deny a weakened Wales party a first win in Australia since 1969 on their 2007 summer tour.

But they won the second Test 31-0, and in the autumn's World Cup clash at the Millennium Stadium Australia were the only side in it, a second-half fight back from Gareth Jenkins' team needed to salvage a respectable-looking 20-32 score line.

The Wallabies suffered a disappointing quarter-final exit against England, and were beaten 21-18 by Warren Gatland's Wales on their autumn 2008 tour.

On the 2009 tour, Australia's dirt-trackers eased to a 31-3 win over Cardiff Blues, ending a six-match losing streak in over 100 years of games against the premier side from the Welsh capital.

The Wallabies had endured a poor season, but everything came together against Wales at the Millennium Stadium as Robbie Deans' team romped to a stunning 33-12 win.

Australia's 26-15 win at the Millennium Stadium in 2010 suggested that the green and golds were once again on course to peak at the 2011 World Cup, only to lose to eventual winners New Zealand in the semi-finals before finishing on a high by beating Wales 21-18 in the bronze medal play-off.



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see also
Wales v Australia: Full record
27 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Australia rugby songs
27 Sep 06 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's rugby history
11 Aug 07 |  Welsh
Wales rugby results archive
15 Oct 03 |  Welsh
Wales' rugby fixtures
26 Jun 07 |  Welsh
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
Country profile: Australia
22 Feb 12 |  Country profiles


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