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19 Sep 2007 11:31
Wallaby ace Stephen Larkham has some unfinished business as he targets a likely quarterfinal against holders England in his return from injury at the Rugby World Cup.
The experienced playmaker has zeroed in on a last-eight return early next month as his comeback game from minor knee surgery.
If England can overcome Samoa and Tonga in their remaining two pool games to seal a last-eight spot, they will most likely have an encounter with their 2003 World Cup final opponents in Marseille on October 6.
It is a confrontation that 33-year-old Larkham, playing in his last World Cup before international retirement, has been counting down since losing to Clive Woodward’s team in Sydney four years ago.
“A few people have said that we may not play against England, but personally I would like to play against England at another World Cup,” Larkham said on Tuesday.
“For a couple of us that was one of the reasons why we pushed through to this World Cup, because it was so disappointing to lose in 2003, not necessarily to England, but the way we lost the game.”
A Jonny Wilkinson drop goal won England their first Webb Ellis Trophy in extra time in the Sydney final.
Larkham, who has 102 caps, believes injury-jinxed England have one good game left in them after their humiliation of being held scoreless by South Africa 36-0 in Paris last Friday.
“A lot of England’s problems have to do with injuries and they are still struggling at the moment,” he said.
“In the game last weekend they picked up a couple of injuries again and that always hurts a side. You look at the top sides in this tournament and they’ve all had a pretty settled combination.
“England have got quality forwards, they are renowned for producing good forwards and they’ve still got a fantastic scrum, and it’s a matter of who they can get on the paddock and how they combine.
“They’re definitely a world-class side just waiting to play a good game.”
Larkham, who ranks second to scrumhalf partner George Gregan (136) in most internationals for the Wallabies, believes the Wallabies are better this time around than they were in 2003.
“We still have some work to do but things are rolling along nicely, probably a little bit better than 2003,” he said.
“I think the way we’ve played and some of the stuff that we’ve produced in the games here shows we have a bit more confidence.
“We didn’t put Wales away in that second half but we certainly had the opportunities to,” Larkham said, referring to last Saturday’s 32-20 victory in Cardiff.
“But with the momentum we’ve built over the last 12 months, and particularly in the last few rounds of the tournament, it feels a lot better than 2003.”
Larkham, who said he was close to finalising a European club deal after the World Cup, believes New Zealand are the team to beat in France.
“I’ve rarely seen a New Zealand side that’s under-done.
It’s just a matter of whether they are mentally switched on for the game and how the game pans out,” he said.
“They’re undoubtedly the favourites to win the World Cup at the moment.”
Australia will announce their team later on Wednesday to face Pool B co-leaders Fiji in their next match at Stade de la Mosson on Sunday.—Sapa-AFP
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