A RWC Wallaby Retrospective: 2003 vs 2011! - Green and Gold Rugby

A RWC Wallaby Retrospective: 2003 vs 2011!

A RWC Wallaby Retrospective: 2003 vs 2011!

Where were we one year out?:

Somewhat surprisingly Australia were ranked #1 in 2002 according to Pick and Go. I guess we got a leg up by beating the British Lions the year before and downing the All Blacks a couple of times the same year (including our last away win against them).  On the flip side we’d just lost Rod McQueen and John Eales but it wasn’t all doom and gloom just yet.


Key Players:

With McQueen retiring another Brumbies coach, Eddie Jones, took over from as Wallaby coach and his skipper down there, George Gregan was now Wallaby captain. There was still plenty of experience in the squad through the likes of Matt Burke, Toutai Kefu, Dan Herbert, Steve Larkham, Owen Finegan and Matt Cockbain. A sprinkling of some exciting new faces were now also on the scene, Stirling Mortlock and George Smith in particular, would prove key members of the team.

So far that year:

The 2002 season got straight into it and just had two games v France, Australia winning both (29-17 in Melbourne & 31-25 in Sydney) before the Tri Nations kicked off against New Zealand.

The Team:

The Wallaby team v France, our 2nd test of season and last before the Tri-Nations started:

15 Chris Latham, 14 Wendle Sailor, 13 Matt Burke, 12 Daniel Herbert, 11 Stirling Mortlock, 10 Steve Larkham, 9 George Gregan [c], 8 David Lyons, 7 George Smith, 6 Owen Finegan, 5 Justin Harrison, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Patricio Noriega, 2 Brendan Cannon, 1 Bill Young.

Replacements: Sean Hardman, Rod Moore, Matt Cockbain, Daniel Vickerman, Matt Rogers, Elton Flatley.

  • Sean Hardman and Dan Vickerman debuting from the bench
  • The week prior high profile leaguies Matt Rogers and Wendell Sailor debuted, alongside young QLD lock Nathan Sharpe.
  • Jeremy Paul was injured for this test which saw Hardman called into the squad.

The year ahead?:


In what would be pretty much the norm for the rest of the decade, we beat the All Blacks and the Springboks at home, but lost to them away.  The win against the All Blacks came with a late penalty to Matt Burke after a Matt Rogers try earlier got them within striking distance.

The win against the Boks at the Gabba was highlighted by a massive all in brawl with Ben Tune, Harrison and Paul particularly involved.  The loss to the Boks in the return game in Jo-Burg was memorable for an amazing Brendan Cannon try set up by a brilliant George Smith run seemingly sealing us the match with seconds to go. Only for the Boks to take the game with a Werner Greef try after full time.

We’d then travel north and beat Argentina, get done by Ireland and England, before finishing with a win over Italy for a rather mediocre finish to the year.

At the start of 2003 we comprehensively beat Ireland in Perth 45-16 and then Wales in Sydney 30-10, before losing to the Poms for the first time EVER at home 14-25. Come the Tri-Nations it got worse as we lost to the Boks in Cape Town and had 50 put on us by the Blacks in Sydney.  We would redeem ourselves somewhat with a 29-9 win over the Boks in Brisbane before being outclassed again by New Zealand in Auckland.

New Faces to come:

  • Come the 2002 Spring Tour we had a few new faces in the squad. Adam Freier and David Croft won caps off the bench v Argentina, with only Croft making the 03 RWC squad.
  • A young Matt Giteau, plucked from club football, would make a painful debut v the Poms, yet would be a prominent player for the Wallabies come RWC time, and play an important role in the final.
  • Against Italy Mark Bartholomeauz would make his one and only test appearance from the bench as a late replacement for an injury ravaged side.
  • Plenty of new faces in 2003 with Morgan Turinui and Lote Tuquiri debuting in the first game of the season against the Irish.
  • In the next test against Wales, Dan Heenan debuted but would not feature again all season.
  • Significantly, injuries during the Tri-Nations would lead to the debut of Al Baxter in the last game of the season before the World Cup. He would of course go on to start the RWC final after the dramatic injury to Ben Darwin.
  • During the actual tournament, Matt Dunning and John Roe both debuted (their only appearance at this RWC) against Namibia.

Those that missed the boat:

Herbie – would’ve been handy.

Of the ‘established’ players to miss out on the eventual RWC squad there were:

  • Nick Stiles who would play his last game for the Wallabies in 2002 against England
  • Dan Herbert’s final match would be one match later against Italy (alongside Barto).
  • Steve Kefu wouldn’t make it any further than the first Tri-Nations game against South Africa.
  • Injury took down Patricio Noriega and Toutai Kefu, both key players for the RWC, just a game or two prior to the kick off the tournament.
  • Owen Finegan was, perhaps, controversially omitted after playing much of the season from the bench, and would not represent his country again.

The 2003 RWC:

The team for the RWC final v England at Testra Stadium on 22/11/03 was:

15 Mat Rogers, 14 Wendell Sailor, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Elton Flatley, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Steve Larkham, 9 George Gregan [c], 8 David Lyons,7  Phil Waugh, 6 George Smith, 5 Justin Harrison, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Brendan Cannon, 1 Bill Young. Replacments: Jeremy Paul, Matt Dunning, David Giffin, Matt Cockbain, Joe Roff, Matt Giteau.


The story of the 2003 RWC is well known and doesn’t really need repeating.  We surprised most by getting into the final with a brilliant win over the All Blacks in the semi-final, thanks to that Morty try. It was our best game of the tournament, both from a tactics perspective and an execution one. Unfortunately it was probably our only passable performance of the cup. Even the final, despite being a memorable occasion and an extra-time thriller, wasn’t the most wonderful example of skill and endeavour.

2011 RWC Learnings:

Personally I believe the most significant learning from this World Cup is that depth is over rated, when it comes to the RWC. In the end it comes down to two, perhaps three games. In 2003 we were bloody average all tournament, brilliant v the All Blacks in the semi, and still came within metres/seconds/whatever of being World Champions. And that’s with, what our 4th choice THP (Baxter behind Darwin, Noriega and Panaho). We didn’t even have Larkham for most of that final. And for some reason we relied on high profile recent league recruits in Rogers, Sailor and Tuqiri, over the likes of Matt Burke, Chris Latham and Joe Roff.

Next year we are in a pool with Ireland, Italy, Russia and the USA. That’s one hard match, against a team that doesn’t travel well. Even if the Paddies lose, we’ll make the 2nd round. We could send our 2nd team in against each of those teams and we’d make the finals. Then, if it goes to plan, we’d play Wales (assuming they come 2nd to South Africa in Pool D). Meh. Another non-traveller of a team. We win that and it’s likely to be South Africa in the semi.  In the end it comes down to just winning that one game and we are in the final and, as we learnt from 2003, once you are in the final ANYTHING can happen.

So let’s stop this depth building crap for the 2011 RWC. Let’s just get our best team on the park and start winning today. Is Ma’afu the best THP in Australia now? Is JOC the best wing in Australia now? Is Mumm one of the best locks in Australia now? Is Rocky our best captain now? Let’s stop ‘developing’ these players on the international stage, to get them ready for the RWC and let’s just pick the best players available!

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  • Ruggo.

    Good article Reg but as much as some of us don’t like him, we have to give Eddie credit for the tactis in the semi.

    • oh yeah, absolutely. But then he undid it by the lack of tactics in the final.

    • ThommoManly

      think again, we won’t meet SA or NZ until the final, it will be our nemesis England in the semi, and everyone knows we haven’t beaten them in RWC since ’91, and in 2007 the writing was on the wall after 15 mins, and we weren’t able to adapt to their tactics.

      Every time we have been knocked out, it was due to an inability to adapt to the opposition’s tactics (that could be said of the Kiwis since ’87 too!)

  • Thomas

    Look at that big bloody 2002 team compared to today’s rabble. That was a team of real men. Our current team is more like a schoolboy side. No strength, no facial hair, no bollocks. What a joke.

    • Watson

      How’s this for a team of hardened veterans:

      Robinson, Moore, Alexander
      Sharpe, Humphries
      Elsom, Waugh, Palu
      Sheehan, Halangahu
      Giteau, A-Cooper
      Hynes, Huxley, Staniforth

      Looks alright to me!

  • Garry

    Joe Roff on the bench? What a waste?

    • Happy Hooker

      absolute travesty that Sailor ever started ahead of Roff – Jones must be to blame for bringing in all those leaguies – he still has a fascination with them…

      Watson, I hope you’re kidding with that team…

  • Lee Enfield

    The lesson for me is, if players are paid huge amounts of money by the ARU to play, they are automatically selected in the team, whether their performances warrant it or not. Nothing has changed.

  • Pants

    Lets not forget, we haven’t had a reliable world class goal kicker since Matt Burke (and to a certain degree Elton Flately) left. Since then we’ve had mediocre kickers at best and for some reason stuck with them. I remember when Mortlock was goal kicker thinking it couldn’t get any worse but now we’ve got Giteau who is almost out doing Mortlock in terms of missing kicks in front of goal. So the question also needs to be asked..who is our best goal kicker?

    • Who?

      Good call Pants. Let us never forget that the overhyped ‘superboot’, Jonny Wilkinson, was outkicked by Flats in that final. With our recent goal kicking performances, or a performance from Wilkinson worthy of the hype, we’d never have seen extra time…

      NoddyReg, I reckon your last paragraph is spot on. Pick our best team now, no need for further development of a 5th choice prop, 6th choice lock, a bloke learning the wing on the international stage, etc. We’ve got players to come back, so pick our best available, not people who’ll be useful in 2015. It’s interesting to see the 2002 team with Sharpe, Vickerman and Harrison. Why can’t today’s locks be Sharpe (old head, like Harrison), Simmons and Douglas..? Douglas was very good in the S14. Why can’t we have Kepu, Palmer, Tilse, even Dunning at 3 and/or on the bench?

      Put our best players out there, work the combinations, and slot in injured players as they recover. Who knows – maybe they’ll have a harder time getting back in if the current players get a chance to gel. If we were to throw in Simmons and Douglas in there, it might prove difficult to find room to squeeze in Sharpe, Horwill, Vickerman, Mumm into the 22 next year… Give Kepu and Palmer game time – Ma’afu won’t make RWC squad, Big Al might not be needed (on our current progress, I think he will be).

    • RedsHappy

      An excellent point, and we must immediately appoint the near-full-time kicking coach we should have had since 2008 so as to work on all of MG’s, QC’s, JO’C’s and BB’s kicking skills, where all could clearly improve on where they are today, and where all could well be called on to kick in the RWC in various game and injury scenarios.

      The fact that we’ve had no permanent properly qualified Wallabies kicking coach for ages and where Giteau was reportedly himself paying his old kicking mentor in June to help him post the England 2 debacle, beggars belief IMO.

      We all recall what happened that day in Marseilles when Mortlock missed that final penalty kick that would have won us the game.

  • Pants

    I was at Twickenham for Giteau’s debut. Will never forget his first pass going behind the backs to nobody and following it up with another one a short time later. I am one of those people who just don’t get what people see in him.

    • Alex-A

      You obviously didnt see him play much for the Force. On occasions he would single handedly win a match. In the 2009 draw against the crusaders Gits was practically playing them by himself and cut them to pieces. He was also last years tri nations top try scorer….. pretty shit realy.

      • Pants

        Where did we finish in last years 3N? Last. When did Giteau single handedly win a game for the Wallabies? Or the inverse…when did Giteau lose a game for the Wallabies? What about those easy missed goals against Scotland and England that could have won those games. What about failing to kick penalties out over touch.

        To be balanced, he can play amazing rugby, but at the same time he does some really ordinary things too. You would have hoped that over the past 7 years, those ordinary things would have been eliminated from his game but they haven’t. He is consistently good and bad at the same time.

  • Barbarian

    Actually Reg I think we will hit either France or England in the semi if all goes to plan. We have the best draw possible I reckon.

  • ThommoManly

    another point one should refer to is every team has one great game in them in a mega tournament like RWC, the Wobblies had theirs in the semi vs NZ (I was there), it is extremely difficult to get up for 2 in a row, especially after a semi like that, whereas England turned up for their semi and France didn’t (I was there too!).

    England in the semi will be a good entree for NZ in the final, but will the hoodoo/jinx/loss of mojo against the Poms continue?

    • Who?

      I hope it’s not England in the semi – regardless of how good we are, they seem to be our bogey team. We’ve beaten them twice (87 Pool, 91 WC Final), and lost to them 3 times in the WC (95 + 07 QF’s, 03 F), not meeting them in 99 (which we won). We haven’t beaten them in the WC since 91, so, unless we’re looking a lot stronger than we currently are, I’d rather steer clear of them… They make me nervous – especially given they didn’t send out their absolute strongest team this June, and still managed to beat us (if only for the 3rd time ever in Australia).

  • tactics

    So we need to stick it out through the quarters (though not ASSUME we will win as we did last time) and then out-play whoever we come up against (prob france or england actually if things ‘go to plan’)

    Tactics-wise, its not hard to guess how our opponents will play: Physicality/Get Cooper

    At the end of the day we need to win 3 or 4 good games on the trot – and that may require a little more consistency than we have. Won’t help that we are shit on NZ soil in NZ weather and it will only be worse in september. That said at least we are not playing semis and finals in shitty dunedin or christchurch, but we dont do much better in auckland. Why don’t we base ourselves in NZ from June?

  • Robson

    Great call. Pick the best players available. Couldn’t agree more with that. The problem is that the ones we think are the best players available aren’t on the Deans clip board! And if they are they are being played out of position.

    We are, in fact, creating “depth” in two or three key areas with substandard players.

    • sammy

      ”We are, in fact, creating “depth” in two or three key areas with substandard players”

      couldn’t put it better

  • bazzamacca

    so we lose thp noriega and no 8 kefu prior to the rwc, we pick baxter and a midget backrow to replace and #depth is overrated#

    • hey Bazz. No. what I’m saying is injuries happen and we cope. We weren’t wasting our time trying to blood Baxter 1 year out from the RWC. He was the best man for the job at the time and we selected him. And we almost one the RWC.

      Same with Lyons. He was picked on form, not potential. He was one our best in the first 03 RWC game. Nothing to do with easing him into the team. He was just good enough at the time.


The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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