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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 14:20 GMT
Fox hails Larkham class

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

Maureen Larkham celebrates the win with her son Stephen
Larkham celebrates a momentous performance with his mother
All Blacks legend Grant Fox hailed Stephen Larkham as a "class act" after the Australian fly-half recovered top form in Saturday's semi-final win over New Zealand.

Fox, part of the only All Blacks side to taste World Cup victory in 1987, was dissecting the wreckage of a fourth consecutive Kiwi campaign ending in failure.

But the former fly-half praised Larkham's outstanding contribution to the Wallabies' 22-10 triumph at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

"Larkham played very well," Fox told the BBC Sport website. "It just proves that form is temporary, class is permanent.

"He has not been too flash up to this point in the tournament, but he got a great platform from his forwards to work off.

"It is probably the first time he has had that sort of platform and he took full advantage."

Where Australia's pack produced a raft of quickly-recycled ball for their half-backs to work with, the supply line to New Zealand stand-off Carlos Spencer was laboured.

And Larkham, whose hold on the Wallaby number 10 jersey appeared tenuous after being replaced in earlier wins over Ireland and Scotland, thrived on the service.

A series of thrusting breaks cut holes in an exposed New Zealand defence, while his precision passing probed for weaknesses in the All Blacks midfield.

Using centre Stirling Mortlock as the focal point and Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri cutting in off their wings, Larkham directed Australia's relentless attacks with aplomb.

"Stevie was absolutely outstanding," said Australia coach Eddie Jones. "He has copped a reasonable amount of criticism for his performances but he read their defensive pattern very well.

"He took the space when it was available, chipped the ball when it was an option and shifted ball when he could.

"We knew playing against that All Blacks side, Carlos Spencer would be hard on the drift defence which opened up space on the outside for Steve.

New Zealand's Reuben Thorne tries in vain to catch Stephen Larkham
Larkham cruised past Thorne
"That was probably his best World Cup performance, but I think he will play even better next week."

While Larkham prospered, Spencer struggled under the pressure of playing catch-up rugby, despite brilliantly setting up a try for captain Reuben Thorne with a jinking run.

But Fox believes Spencer should not be made a scapegoat for New Zealand's defeat, believing Australia highlighted defensive deficiencies already evident against Wales.

"One number 10 doesn't often mark the other 10 in defence," Fox added. "You have got to look at the system.

"The Wallabies clearly worked out that the All Blacks would leave space on the outside, and the only side that has put them under pressure there was Wales.

"Australia obviously looked at that area and they did it very well."

Fox, like all New Zealanders, was left to contemplate four more years of World Cup woe.

"I don't take great pride from being part of the only side to have won it," he added.

"This new breed of guys have set the standard this year but they had a bad day at the office, and at this stage of the tournament, that is the end of it.

"But the sun will still come up tomorrow."





Links to more New Zealand stories


 

SEE ALSO
1999: France 43-31 N Zealand
24 Sep 03  |  History


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