FOUR NATIONS FINAL

When the final whistle blew for Australia to defeat England 30 – 8 in the Four Nations final this morning, two thoughts occurred to me. Firstly, Will Evans is a prophet – a week ago he said that the Poms would stay with the Australians for an hour before the Australians got away. Score one to you, Will. Secondly, I thought that there is indeed a god and he has a sense of humour. Consider this: Darren Lockyer deservingly went out a winner, scored a try with the last play of the game but showed his flawed humanity by fluffing the easiest of conversion attempts. (A bit like Bradman getting a last Test innings duck when only another four runs would have given him a career average of 100. Human perfection just doesn’t exist, but let’s not get into theology here.)

The final scoreline was a good indication of the match – Australia by five tries to one with another three disallowed (two correctly so) and England’s one resulting from a video ref’s decision which Sir Humphrey Appleby would have described as “courageous”. Champion players, champion team versus several very good players, good team.

Aussie coach Sheens showed his game plan immediately by starting with Shillington (named on the bench) and relegating Watmough (named to start) to the bench. In what was expected and turned out to be a tough and physical opening, Sheens wanted his big boppers on the field before the match settled down and offered opportunities for more expansive play. Scott, Gallen and Shillington didn’t let him down.

Rugby league theory says that big matches are won in the forwards. Today was no different. The big men were well directed by Smith (so rarely controlled by opponents) and strongly supported by Thaiday and Lewis who both shone in attack and defence. Watmough and Williams provided the supporting artillery when they came on. Their English opponents were honest and never gave up with Graham a standout ahead of the hard-working Roby. Carvell and Morley did well off the bench while Jones-Buchanan had his moments (interspersed with a few costly errors).

Johnathon Thurston had yet another blinder, with his third man-of-the-match effort in four games. He guided the backs around, supported well, defended strongly and kicked five goals from five attempts. Lockyer was a fine foil with the tactical kicking and selective passing to create several line breaks. They were all over their direct opponents although Sinfield had possibly his best game of the series.

Out wide, Lawrence was ran strongly with the ball and defended stoutly while Inglis hit hard in defence (ask Ellis) and scored a seemingly effortless try. With limited game time, Cronk put in another performance which enhanced his claims to join Thurston in the halves in the wake of Lockyer’s retirement. The wingers did their bit while Boyd made not a single error at fullback to push Thurston for best on ground honours. By comparison, the Poms were a grade below in almost every position. The halves didn’t gel, the centres lacked the size and speed of their opponents, the wingers were inconsistent (is Hall a winger or would he be better at centre?) and fullback Tomkins was well contained. (My obsession, Jack Reed, was serviceable but has a tendency to come out of the line in defence and was made to pay by Inglis. And, Jack, where did you get those shorts? They would have been too large for James Graham!)

The tale of the tape? An early try to Australia courtesy of Thaiday followed by several further missed opportunities which allowed England to contain the scoreline. A first half of good movement up and down the field but a lack of execution, more so by the Australians. A dubious penalty try to England (Hall) got them level close to half-time before a penalty to Thurston saw the Aussies go to the sheds up 8 – 6. The Poms had used up a lot of gas defending. Early English pressure in the second half and a penalty had it all tied up after 50 minutes. Enter the Will Evans theory. With better structure, tactical kicking, control and patience (with resultant field position), converted tries to Yow Yeh, Inglis and Thurston within 10 minutes ensured the result. In that short period, English errors deep in their own half and tiredness in defence cost them any hope of getting back into the game. A last minute try to Lockyer made for the perfect ending to his career (even if the conversion attempt was a shocker). 30 – 8 was a fair thing.

The officials had a mixed game but didn’t influence the outcome; the commentators – well, the less said the better! The crowd was boisterous and shamelessly one-sided but applauded good Australian play. The generous reception for Lockyer during the presentations spoke volumes for their recognition of a champion. (Australian crowds could learn a lesson from this mob.)

Thankfully, in the end, this game was not just about Darren Lockyer. It was a full-on clash between traditional rivals for the Four Nations trophy, at the same time showcasing the legend’s final match. The man himself played well with trademark patience, selective passing, kicking for position and general organisation. The final try was icing on the cake. Lockyer’s comments at the presentations demonstrated yet again his humility, thankfulness to his teammates, graciousness to opponents, and appreciation for the game’s supporters.

I don’t agree with the theory that elite sportspeople are role models for society but I do suggest that Lockyer has been a great role model for fellow players to emulate. If they do the latter, they just might also be a bit of the former.

So, finally, we come to the end of the 2011 season and enter the era AD (After Darren). Anyone willing to make any predications?

Australia 30 (Tries: Thaiday, Yow Yeh, Inglis, Thurston, Lockyer Goals: Thurston 5/5, Lockyer 0/1)
England 8 (Try: Hall Goals: Sinfield 2/2)
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds
Crowd: 34,174

Best players: 3 – Thurston (Aus), 2 – Boyd (Aus), 1 – Gallen (Aus)
(with apologies to Thaiday, Lewis and Smith)

About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I appreciate those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

Comments

  1. In the dying seconds of the Four Nations Final, Darren Lockyer permitted himself a little indulgence. England were well beaten by this stage and moving the ball wide was likely to have a successful outcome. However, Lockyer has that wonderful ability to scan and assess options and also to successfully execute. His grubber kick to bounce the ball off the pad covering the upright, regather and score was an example of his artistry.
    It was the last play of a long and glittering career. The fluffed attempt at the conversion signalled that Darren Lockyer had retired and let go a few seconds before. “Elvis had left the building”.
    He truly ranks as one of the greats of the game.

  2. Ian Hauser says:

    JJL,

    It would be nice to think that Locky did indeed allow himself this little indulgence having, as you say, scanned and assessed the options. And perhaps therein lies a large part of his genius – that vision which is a step ahead of the game and sees both what is and what can be. The other part of the equation is the having the requisite skill to then execute the play. This was the heart of why Wally Lewis was such a legand, too – except I think that he was sometimes up to two plays ahead of the game.

    Alfie and Kevvie had it, too (sticking with the Queensland theme). Remember Renouf’s try in the 1992 Grand Final? With the Broncos on their own line, having just managed to get the ball back into play, Kevin Walters ran into dummy half, pushing his twin brother out of the way, because he saw the possibility wide on the left. Two long passes later Renouf was away and it was shut the gate! Outrageous (given the field position) and beautiful (in the execution) all at the same time. All because of that special vision and the skills that set some players apart.

  3. Ian, a very entertaining and well-informed report. I particularly enjoyed the analogy of Lockyer’s shanked conversion and Bradman’s last-innings duck – I’m sure that kick will rankle with me as Bradman’s 99.94 Test average similarly keeps cricket buffs awake at night.

    Thanks for the wraps, but my woeful success rate at the TAB over the years would suggest I am anything but a prophet. Nevertheless, I was quite smug that the match unfolded so closely to pre-match predicition.

    Looking forward to your reports next year and an epic 2012 season.

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