I am delighted and I must say a little relieved that Australia have made it to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. It was a brutal game against South Africa and I felt we were fairly fortunate to get through. Australia put up an awesome defence to keep South Africa out.
Good teams have a variety of ways of winning Test matches. We know Australia can score tries and they certainly showed us at the weekend that they can also win by defending.
As the game went on, you felt it would only be a matter of time before South Africa scored, but it never happened. What did surprise me was that the Springboks were a bit naïve in the way they played the game. They just kept battering at the door rather than taking the chance for a couple of drop goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
I wasn’t really surprised at the resilience of the Australian team. They have shown before that they have a real determination to win. I think they have benefited from the team-spirit, culture and work ethic that has come through from Queensland Reds’ victory in Super 15. That success is personified in the great performances we have seen from James Horwill and the Reds spirit seems to have flowed through the team. You can tell when you watch that every player has confidence in the person standing next to them.
Now it’s the All Blacks. It will be another brutal match. Of one thing you can be certain: if New Zealand get as much match ball as South Africa did, they will get the points. New Zealand are another very strong team, very physical, but they have more to offer in creativity and danger men. However they are now down to their third choice fly-half after the injuries to Carter and Slade, so there must just be a little doubt in their mind.
Australia are not doing much training this week. They are trying to recover from the South Africa match. Psychologically, I am sure they will be looking back to the last game of the Tri-Nations in Brisbane when they beat the All Blacks in a fantastic, fast running game.
The Australian players that have impressed me have been David Pocock, who was awesome at the breakdown against the Springboks, they really missed him against Ireland. James O’Connor, the young winger, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale, though there is a bit of an injury cloud over him, have all played well.
Fly-half Quade Cooper hasn’t had as a good a World Cup as people were hoping for. But then he’s hardly going to be able to show what he can do when you’ve only got 20 per cent of the ball, as Australia had against the Springboks.
He has another chance this weekend to show what he can do. That’s the great thing about sport, there is always another game. Hopefully Australia will get more of the ball and go through at the weekend then no one will remember the other matches.
Of course it’s going to be very close, but I’ve got a gut feel that Australia, hopefully, will edge it.
The other semi-final is fascinating. I would never have picked these two teams for the semi-final a month ago. Wales have had an outstanding tournament, I’ve been very impressed by them. And France have really only turned up in one game this World Cup, and that was against England. So I think I would have to go for Wales.
Whatever, we are in for a superb weekend of rugby.
Michael Lynagh is Laureus (www.laureus.com) Ambassador and Australian vice-captain and World Cup winner in 1991