Tackling coach puts Aussies in league of their own

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 November, 1999, 12:00am

Here's a question for all you experts out there. Who scored the only try against champions Australia in the 1999 Rugby World Cup? You can be sure that this poser will soon be included in future sports quiz shows. Even though the tournament is only just over, I bet very few people will know the answer.

Give up? Well, the honour goes to American centre Juan Grobler. Little did he know that the solitary try the United States scored in their 55-19 defeat in the preliminary round pool game would be the only time the Wallaby defence would be breached.

If, one day, his grandchildren ask him what he did during the 1999 World Cup, Grobler will be able to proudly tell them: 'I was the only player to cross the Australian line.' It is this facet of Wallaby play which saw them win the World Cup for the second time.

It highlights how much the game has changed since turning professional soon after the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

Defence - and simply not tackling but the ability to turn over possession and create an opportunity for attack - is what it is all about these days.

Of course, rugby league fans will claim that it was because of their sport that the Wallabies were able to bring Bill (outback lingo for the William Webb Ellis trophy) back home.

A lot of credit has gone to specialist tackling coach John Muggleton for creating the iron-clad defence.

Muggleton is a former rugby league player. He started his association with rugby union a couple of years ago when coach Rod Macqueen invited him to a one-off training session when he was in charge of the ACT Brumbies.

Macqueen was so impressed with Muggleton's input that he asked him to join the Wallabies when he became national coach.

In rugby league, tight defences are crucial. Muggleton soon made changes to improve Australia's defence, the key being getting the backs to tackle front-on rather than at an angle.

Known for their superb attacking skills, the Aussie backs were soon proving that they were more than adept at defence too. And as everyone knows now, defence made for the best platform from which to win the World Cup.

Grobler should, indeed, be proud of his feat of breaking through that rock defence. Even South Africa and Wales could find no way through.

And France, who scored four tries against the mighty All Blacks, were left grasping at straws as they bounced off the Wallabies' defensive wall.

It was to be expected. The French had one game in them where they could turn on their much-touted flair and be transformed into world beaters. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, it was against them.

To expect a repeat performance from the French in less than a week would have been like asking for dawn to break twice on the same day. A miracle is a miracle because it catches everyone unawares.

Wanting more of the same from the French was being greedy. Let's just cherish those memories when they put the All Blacks to the sword and also pay homage to a great team who showed rugby is now a game of attack - and defence.