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Burke Becomes A Free Agent.

Burke Becomes A Free Agent.

The New South Wales Waratahs on Sunday announced
they had released Wallaby rugby great Matt Burke from his contract.

The New South Wales Waratahs on Sunday announced
they had released Wallaby rugby great Matt Burke from his contract.

Coach Ewen McKenzie told the 31-year-old former captain at the
weekend that
NSW would not exercise its option to retain him.
Burke’s release came as Wallaby back Mat Rogers signed on for a
three years, joining captain Chris Whitaker and vice-captain Phil
Waugh in
re-committing to the Waratahs.

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The only person with more than 100 appearances for the Waratahs,
Burke is
expected to use upcoming matches for the Barbarians in Europe to
showcase his
talents for northern hemisphere club offers.

The Australian Rugby Union is likely to give him an early release
from his
contract in recognition of his long service which includes 68 Tests
yielded 851 points.

For his state, Burke made a record contribution of over 1000
points in more
than a decade and he switched from fullback to centre following
arrival from rugby league in 2002.
Acknowledging that Burke was one of the greats of NSW and
Australian rugby,
first-year head coach McKenzie said: “It will be probably the
hardest decision
I make this year I’d say, very difficult.

“I had to make a decision moving forward and I’ve got to look
a bit longer
term, so on that basis we’ve made a call.”

The Canterbury Crusaders
their sixth Super 12 final on Saturday, inspired to a 27-16 win
over the
Western Stormers by influential All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall
who was
only cleared fit to play on the eve of the match.

The Crusaders, who have won four Super 12 crowns and been
runner-up once
in the nine-year history of the southern hemisphere inter-provincial
union championship, fought back from a 6-13 deficit with Marshall
playing a
key role in two telling tries.

Two weeks ago Marshall suffered a painful hip injury and the
prognosis said he would be out of rugby for up to six weeks, but he
passed a
late fitness test to take his place in the side.

Although the evergreen halfback was silent on whether he was fully
fit, he
admitted to being “desperate to be here”.

Crusaders skipper Rueben Thorne was in no doubt about Marshall’s
on the game, as the Canterbury outfit struggled to gain the
ascendancy up
front without lineout kingpin Chris Jack who was knocked out during
week’s match, and the suspended loose forward Mose Tuiali’i.
“It was great to have Marshy back, directing play. He made a
difference,” Thorne said.

The first half was played at a furious pace with both sides
rolling mauls and when the Stormers snapped the ball out wide, centre
De Wet
punched holes in the Crusaders defence.

After Daniel Carter and Gaffie du Toit had traded two penalties
each, Barry
was rewarded with the first try of the match, which came courtesy of
a sloppy
Crusaders lineout.

The Stormers snaffled the ball and hammered the defence for
several phases
before Barry broke through a tackle to score.

Du Toit’s conversion and two more Carter penalties had the
Stormers ahead
13-12 at halftime.
As the experienced Crusaders stepped up a notch in the second
half, the
Stormers began to tire, showing the effects of flying from
Christchurch to
South Africa and back again in the past fortnight.

Within two minutes of the restart the Crusaders took the lead with
a superb
Marshall try that started when he made the initial break inside his
own 22 and
was on hand to take the final pass from Marika Vunibaka to score at
the other
end of the field.

Carter converted, and three minutes later du Toit slotted another
to make it 19-16.
Marshall set the scene for the final try of the match with 15
remaining when he called his backs into rolling maul, swelling the
pack to 11 as they drove relentlessly forward, and from a scrum close
to the
line Caleb Ralph finished a regulation move to score wide out.

“The first half was all about pressure. They put the hits on
us and we
managed to come out even, but in the second half we wanted to pile it
on them
and play down their end of the field,” Thorne said.
“We really wanted to put in a solid performance and I think
we did that.”

AFP – 2004.