Rugby World Cup 2003
Australia off and running
October 10, 2003
Wallaby winger Joe Roff dives in to score against Argentina
© Getty Images
This was not a thing of beauty, but Australia won't mind too much. The priority in opening their defence of the World Cup at Sydney Olympic Stadium was to get past potentially troublesome opposition without too many alarums or damage to confidence or person.
They didn't get the last, and will be worried by an unpleasant looking injury to their senior lock David Giffin who fell on his back and neck taking the second-half restart and was stretched off in a neck brace after a seven-minute delay.
The rest, though, was accomplished against tough and determined opponents. The World Cup isn't won on the first day and the Wallabies will remember that they started comparatively slowly in 1999 before gathering irresistible momentum once the knock-out stages were reached.
Their key performer was a man who already knows what it takes to win a World Cup, although not in union. Wendell Sailor was Australia's two-try man of the match when it won the last Rugby League World Cup, beating New Zealand at Old Trafford three years ago.
Both his subsequent change of code, and Australia's pursuit of league talent, were justified by this display. Sailor's first-half try, bursting three tackles to plunge to the line, came from a position created by a sharp inside pass from another ex-Leaguie, full-back Mat Rogers. And the giant wing was consistently the Wallabies most dangerous attacker, consistently making ground and threatening to break Argentina's defensive line.
Australia were already six points up through two penalties from centre Elton Flatley, who went on to add another penalty for a 14-3 half-time lead. His consistency with the boot was in contrast to Argentinian outside-half Felipe Contepomi, who missed three penalties and a conversion and left one wondering whether the Pumas might have done better to go with Gonzalo Quesada, the Golden Boot of the 1999 competition, at outside-half.
It wasn't a great night for the Contepomi family. Centre Manuel was sin-binned for taking out the leaping Rogers as he chased one of twin brother Felipe's towering up and unders. It was ironically during his absence that Argentina scored their only first-half points, Felipe Contepomi landing a penalty.
Argentina's first half was blighted by their line-out, where hooker Mario Ledesma appeared shaken by losing a first-minute put-in close to the Australian line and was subsequently penalised several times for a crooked put-in.
They did the basics better after the break. Reprieved when Australian prop Bill Young broke superbly to create an overlap for wing Joe Roff, but then threw the scoring pass forward, Argentina enjoyed their best patch in the final quarter.
A long spell of pressure, much of it with their backrow sniping around the fringes at Australia's unyielding defence, was finally rewarded when wing Ignacio Corleto went over on the left. Had Contepomi converted, Argentina would have been within seven points and collected a bonus point. But he failed, and in any case it was made academic within two minutes when Roff charged over and Flatley converted to take his personal tally to 14 points.
Australia: Rogers, Sailor, Burke, Flatley, Roff, Larkham, Gregan, Young, Cannon, Baxter, Giffin, Sharpe, Smith, Waugh, Lyons.
Replacements: Tuqiri for Roff (78), Giteau for Larkham (69), Whitaker for Gregan (78), Paul for Cannon (72), Darwin for Baxter (67), Vickerman for Giffin (41), Cockbain for Smith (67).
Tries: Sailor, Roff.
Pens: Flatley 4.
Argentina: Corleto, Nunez Piossek, M. Contepomi, Orengo, Albanese, F. Contepomi, Pichot, Hasan, Ledesma, Grau, Fernandez Lobbe, Albacete, Phelan, Martin, Longo Elia.
Replacements: Reggiardo for Hasan (68).
Not Used: Mendez, Alvarez, Durand, N. Fernandez Miranda, Quesada, Martin Hernandez.
Pens: F. Contepomi.
Sin Bin: M. Contepomi (23).
Ref: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).