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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 September 2007, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Larkham ready for final act
By Phil Harlow

Stephen Larkham and George Gregan
I have a lot of respect for George and I think he's got a bit of respect for me

Stephen Larkham on his enduring partnership with George Gregan
In the pantheon of great double acts, Australia's half-back pairing of Stephen Larkham and George Gregan are right up there with Morecambe and Wise, the Two Ronnies and, er, Hale and Pace.

With a combined 235 caps and two World Cup winners' medals to their name, not to mention more experience than you could shake a very large stick at, Australian greats Larkham and Gregan have done it all.

Fittingly, the duo will both bring down the curtain on their illustrious international careers after the World Cup - and both intend to ply their trade in Europe, although Larkham's destination is not yet known following the collapse of his move to Edinburgh.

But if the softly-spoken Larkham, 33, is sick of the sight of 34-year-old Gregan - they have also played more than 10 years of Super 14 rugby together for the Brumbies - he hides it well.

"George really will be dearly missed when he retires," Larkham, speaking at the launch of Canterbury's new IonX sportswear, told BBC Sport.

"He's the epitome of the professional rugby player. He's someone that everybody aspires to be like.

"The guys around him learn so much from him and that legacy will carry on - and that's not to mention how well he plays.

"He handles difficult situations so well and there's nobody else in the team who keeps those standards as highly as he does.

"Off the pitch, we're good friends. He's always making jokes - even if they aren't always the best - and is up for a good time. He has that ability to switch on and off."

Given his massive achievements, Larkham's opinion on what makes for a successful half-back partnership is probably worth listening to.

"A lot of it's down to how much you play together," said the 1999 World Cup winner.

"Understanding each other's game comes with time out on the pitch, but also understanding the other person off the field so you can get the most out of them.

"I have a lot of respect for George and I think he's got a bit of respect for me. I think that really helps.

"When I first started out, he basically taught me how to play at fly-half - where to stand and what to do, so I owe him a lot."

Australia's Stephen Larkham
Date of birth: 29 May 1974
Test caps: 101
Test points: 130 (24 tries, two conversions, two drop-goals)
Major honours: World Cup (1999); Tri-Nations (2000, 2001); Super 12 (2001)

Firing out defence-splitting passes while the likes of Jerry Collins or Schalk Burger attempt to knock seven bells out of you is an occupational hazard for Larkham.

But the most terrifying moment of his career did not come on the pitch but in the doctor's waiting room - after he was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Larkham, who has two young children with wife Jacqui, had a malignant melanoma removed from the back of his knee in 2005.

"It was spotted pretty early so I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

"But there were plenty of frightening moments.

"I had to wait a week for my results to make sure that what they cut out was enough and then they had to do some tests on the melanoma itself to see how bad it was. It was a very worrying time.

"I still worry about it now. I have six-monthly check-ups to make sure that other areas of my body aren't growing melanomas."

Larkham, who now wears sunscreen at every training session, said the traumatic episode had left him determined to do his bit in the battle to cut the numbers dying of the disease every year.

"I just try to raise awareness of how dangerous the sun can be," he said.

"Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world so it's not a bad place to start getting the message across."

On the more trivial subject of Australia's chances at this year's tournament, Larkham is quietly confident - and with just cause given that the Wallabies were the last team to beat odds-on favourites New Zealand.

"We're pretty well prepared. I feel like we've been improving every week over the last 12 months and our performance in the Tri-Nations gave a lot of confidence to some of the younger guys," he said.

"New Zealand are obviously favourites but I think pretty much any of the sides in the top six or eight probably have a good as chance as anyone. It all comes down to who performs best on the day.

"We have a good record in World Cups and we generally get up for the big matches."

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