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Wallabies receive strong support before departure

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SYDNEY — The Australia national rugby union team’s three-day training camp concluded on Wednesday with a public farewell function at Sydney’s Town Hall, where a few hundred supporters alongside Prime Minister John Howard bade farewell to the Wallabies before their departure for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

The Wallabies leave Australia on Thursday for a five-day training camp at the Browns Sports Training Centre in Algave, Portugal, before arriving in France on Aug. 29.

Australia will compete against Japan, Wales, Canada and Fiji in Pool B.

Attempting to bring home the William Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time, after victories in 1991 and ’99, Australia will play its first pool match against Japan on Sept. 8 at Stade Gerland Stadium in Lyon.

“Japan will be the first game for us so it will be very important to have a good start,” Wallabies vice-captain/scrumhalf George Gregan said.

“They are a very quick team, so we will have to work really hard off the ball. They will certainly be a very good test for us.

This World Cup will be Gregen’s last as plans to retire from international test rugby.

“I am looking forward to playing against Japan,” added hooker Adam Freier.

The young emerging front rower has the most experience playing against Japan having faced them both with the Australia A side and the Prime Minister’s XV in November last year.

“I really appreciate the way they play,” Freier said. “They got a very solid line-out with an excellent thrower.”

Freier, a Waratahs forward, also trained alongside the first squad of Japan’s high-performance unit, one of whom, scrumhalf Kim Chul Won, is now on the extended Japanese national team.

“It’s good that the Waratahs got an affiliation with the Japanese rugby union developing players,” Freier said.

Indeed, Australia has played a big brother role in the development of Japanese rugby since the signing of a historical rugby accord between the two unions in 2005.

The accord grants mutual support in rugby initiatives between the two rugby unions.

The aim of the agreement is to make the Japanese national team more competetive via player, coach and referee exchanges.

Despite the accord the match with Japan is not the one the Wallabies are focusing on.

“For our perspective, we are targeting the second match against Wales. They are having a home ground advantage in the World Cup and they will be an extremely massive task for us,” said Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock.