Wallabies can't afford to be thinking of home

GREG GROWDEN
Last updated 05:00 21/10/2011

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Rugby

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The Wallabies are making all the right statements about tonight's World Cup bronze medal match against Wales at Eden Park, but the big concern is whether they will be mentally switched on.

While Wales are in a belligerent mood, still believing they were unfairly done by when their captain Sam Warburton was sent off for a dangerous tackle during the semifinal against France, the Wallabies remain flat after their World Cup campaign fell short by being obliterated by the All Blacks.

It has taken several days for the Wallabies to get over the despair of missing the final, with key players still struggling late in the week to comprehend why they were unable to play to their full potential, and are even grateful they were not beaten by more by a totally dominant opposition.

Making the matter worse is that they now confront an opponent who will be as rabid as the All Blacks in wanting to achieve victory.

Wales look upon the Wallabies as being extremely vulnerable, and they want to use this match to prove to the world that they are the best team from the northern hemisphere, and would have been better World Cup finalists than France.

Wales have taken close note of how Ireland and the All Blacks were so successful in rattling the Wallabies by being aggressive, and will take a similar approach.

The Wallabies can expect another swarming opposition, who will attempt to restrict their possession with a bustling defensive strategy, and use their quality attack to take advantage of any turnover ball.

To counter that, the Wallabies have to be on top of both the physical and mental game. They say they are taking this match ultra-seriously, and want to return to a more adventurous game plan, after recently getting bogged down by persisting with negative kick-oriented tactics.

They had better do that because this is the type of danger game where careers can be derailed.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has persevered with five-eighth Quade Cooper, hoping his final appearance at this World Cup can be a morale booster. If Cooper has a third poor game in a row, it will further alarm Australian rugby officials who look upon him as a crucial marketing tool for the code.

They need Cooper back in form and firing to get punters through the gates. That won't happen if the Wallabies have no option but to suddenly look for another playmaker.

After Rocky Elsom's lacklustre tournament, Scott Higginbotham has the chance to show he is a viable test blindside flanker option, while Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has taken some time to overcome his injuries, can again put pressure on Stephen Moore as the No 1 hooker.

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And this is the match where Berrick Barnes can re-establish himself as a test second-five option.

It all revolves around them focusing on the game, and not getting sidetracked by dreaming about getting back in the Australian sun.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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