On Thursday morning, a huge defensive effort by the young Qantas Australian Wallabies side saw them seize a richly deserved victory over a star-studded South African Barbarians at Wembley Stadium in London. The final score was Wallabies 18 to Barbarians 11.
The game started unspectacularly with Barbarians flyhalf Francois Steyn lofting the opening kick off into touch on the full.
But the Barbarians soon got in to stride with Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez releasing his all-star backline at every opportunity with evergreen South African fullback Percy Montgomery prominent.
The Barbarians had all the early ball but absolutely outstanding Wallabies defence held them at bay, it was a pattern that was to continue throughout the match, and it was the Men of Gold who opened the scoring in the 12th minute.
George Smith, up against three of the greatest backrowers in world Rugby in the Barbarians team, won a turnover just outside the Wallabies 22 and the ball came quickly to Ryan Cross who broke down the right wing. He kicked inside to find Lote Tuqiri following up.
Tuqiri gathered the ball expertly and dove over for the opening try of the game. 18-year-old James O’Connor converted and the Wallabies were up 7-0.
The illustrious Barbarians back row of Richie McCaw, No.8 Schalk Burger and Jerry Collins, although conspicuous, were taking a while to gel and the Wallabies went further ahead on 19 minutes when the Baa-Baas were penalized for hands in the ruck.
O’Connor coolly slotted the penalty from the Barbarians 22 and the Men of Gold were 10-0 up with a quarter of the game gone.
The young Force star had shown incredible poise and composure in his first start at international level.
Australia were 13 points up soon after, following good work from Smith and Quade Cooper which put inside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper away on a long break.
Collins was penalized for holding on at the ensuing ruck and O’Connor again landed the penalty attempt, this time from 30 metres.
After 27 minutes the Wallabies had made double the tackles of the Barbarians (55-27), showing how much the invitational side were dominating the possession, but it was the Men of Gold making better use of the limited ball they had.
A moment of genius from hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, having an outstanding game, almost led to Australia’s second try as the skilful hooker flicked a superb reverse pass to put winger Digby Ioane away but Joe Rokocoko cleaned up for the Barbarians.
Polota-Nau put in a massive tackle on Collins soon after and it was clear their was quite a bit of sting in this match played to celebrate the Wallabies 1908 Olympics Gold Medal victory.
Then Cooper and Barbarians prop Federico Pucciariello scuffled after a big tackle from the young Queenslander on Du Preez.
The Barbarians finally conceded that the Wallabies ferocious defence was going to take some breaking when they opted for a penalty goal to Montgomery on 35 minutes to make it 13-3.
Former Wallabies prop Rodney Blake came on for the Barbarians and soon after the Baa-Baas were back to 13-6 as sustained pressure led to another Montgomery penalty.
Unlike most Barbarians matches this game was developing into a hard fought, tight “Test” match with colossal defence from the Men of Gold the dominant facet of the match.
It was clear as the half time whistle was blown by referee Chris White that the young Wallabies wanted to finish their Spring Tour with a win and would put their bodies on the line to do it.
Welsh flyer, and IRB Player of the Year, Shane Williams was brought on at the re-start for Montgomery with Habana dropping to fullback.
The move paid dividends immediately with Habana and Rokocoko combining superbly from a scrum and launching a long raid into Wallabies territory.
Again tenacious Wallabies defence held the Barbarians out with first McCaw and then Blake being stopped inches short.
Magnificent defence on Williams soon after earned the Wallabies a knock on but a big Barbarians scrum won the ball back. But again the Wallabies cleared.
Then injury hit the Wallabies when in the same passage of play both Sekope Kepu (arm) and Matt Dunning (possible Achilles tendon) were carried from the field.
This brought Ben Alexander and Adam Freier on and with the Wallabies a prop down the game went to uncontested scrums for the last 30 minutes. Young flanker David Pocock also came on for Force team mate Richard Brown.
It seemed the Wallabies defence now must crack but Ashley-Cooper popped up with a telling intercept and suddenly the Men of Gold were on the attack.
Ashley-Cooper was held up over the line by Du Preez shortly after as the Barbarians went to the bench with Chris Jack coming on for Johann Muller, Ollie Smith for Rico Gear and the uncapped flanker Nick Koster on for prop Census Johnston with scrums now not being contested.
Luke Burgess came on for Brett Sheehan and made an important tackle on Habana soon after. Pocock made an even more important covering tackle on Habana again as the game approached the hour mark.
It was the start of a massive defensive effort from the young Force flanker in the final quarter of the game as he, like the rest of the Wallabies, tackled his heart out.
Wallabies legend George Gregan then came on for Du Preez, to a generous round of applause, and English hooker Mark Regan was brought on for the Barbarians.
Soon after the Wallabies line finally broke.
After Gregan had hacked the ball downfield, O’Connor mis-hit his clearance and it ended up in the hands of Habana thirty metres out.
The Bok speedster flung it wide to Williams who drew the Wallabies defence before popping the ball inside to Collins who drove over for the Barbarians opening try.
Steyn missed the conversion but the game was on a knife edge at 13-11 to the Wallabies with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Cooper was coming more and more into his own and he put over a delicate chip kick that Ashley-Cooper re-gathered and he looked like he was away until Gregan dragged him down.
Stunning swarming defence from the Wallabies again shut down a threatening Barbarians break out on 68 minutes after Steyn had picked up a Cooper grubber kick.
O’Connor went off for Drew Mitchell as Steyn had a chance to put the Barbarians in front with nine minutes to go but his penalty attempt slipped wide.
Steyn missed a drop goal attempt with five minutes to go and once more heroic Wallabies defence held the Barbarians out.
And then as they had done all game, when the Wallabies had their chance they struck and delivered the killer blow.
A turnover was finally won, after a huge tackle from Tuqiri on Steyn, and Burgess spread the ball wide to Mitchell.
The mustachioed fullback sprinted down the left wing and drew the defence before feeding the ball to replacement Lachie Turner to sprint away for the match sealing try.
Qantas Wallabies 18 (Lote Tuqiri, Lachie Turner tries; James O’Connor 2 penalties, conversion) defeated Barbarians 11 (Jerry Collins try; Francois Steyn 2 penalties) at Wembley Stadium, London
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