Connolly hails importance of Gregan
PA Sport
June 3, 2007

Australia coach John Connolly admitted an error-ridden first-half performance against Wales prompted an "urgent" call for veteran George Gregan to replace Matt Giteau at half-back.

And Connolly even hinted that Gregan, the former captain whose introduction inspired Australia to a 31-0 win, could have a role to play through the Tri-Nations and the World Cup.

The leading all-time Test player turned a terrible spectacle into something to cheer for a healthy Brisbane crowd after replacing Adam Ashley-Cooper at half-time with the score at 6-0.

He had a hand in all three second-half tries to guide Australia to its first shutout victory over the Welsh in 25 meetings - a vintage performance which will have done his hopes of playing a key role in his fourth World Cup no harm whatsoever.

Connolly admitted Gregan's introduction ``made a significant difference''.

He said: ``There's no doubt that the Gregan, (Stephen) Larkham, Giteau, (Stirling) Mortlock combination are very comfortable with each other.

``Tonight we thought we needed George urgently.''

Connolly said the second half made up for a dismal opening 40 minutes of Test rugby. He sai: ``Mentally I don't think we were there to do the hard work. But the second half I think indicated that we're on the right road.''

And that could suggest a greater role for the influential Gregan through the remaining winter Test program with Connolly confirming the 34-year-old would start against Fiji next week although Giteau and Stephen Larkham might be rested through knee and hamstring injuries respectively.

Injuries were also top of Wales coach Gareth Jenkins' thoughts although neither he nor captain Gareth Thomas wanted to use that as an excuse for the milestone loss.

Jenkins did, though, bemoan his team's fatigue after a long domestic and international season, which - coupled with the first-half injuries to Chris Czekaj and Jamie Robinson - rocked the visiting camp.

``It was fatigue, there was no doubt, and those injuries do have an impact on you,'' he said.

``But it was a case of never getting into the game really. Possession was hard
to come by.

``We never had a chance to get hold of the ball for any sustained amount of time which meant we had to defend far too often for far too long.''

While, like Connolly, he was disappointed with the line-out, it was being penalised around the scrum which most annoyed Jenkins although he blamed much of the dispute on the interpretation of New Zealand referee Paul Honiss.

``There were 17 free-kicks and penalties against us,'' he said.

``A lot of it was around the scrum - and that's all interpretation.''

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