Sharpe 'in Matfield's class?'
Auckland - Nathan Sharpe, set to join a select Wallaby quartet with 100 Tests this week, ranks alongside South Africa's Victor Matfield as the best lineout exponent of the last decade, according to Australia coach Robbie Deans.
The 33-year-old lock, who made his Test debut in 2002, has been selected to start for Australia in Friday's World Cup third place playoff against Wales at Eden Park.
Sharpe will become only the fifth Wallaby to reach 100 Tests, joining George Gregan (139), George Smith (110), Stephen Larkham (102) and David Campese (101).
At one stage in this tournament it looked as though Sharpe might be stranded on 99 after he was passed over for the younger Rob Simmons on the replacements' bench for Australia's losing semi-final against the All Blacks last Sunday.
"Those sort of things are out of your hands, all I've tried to do is to make the most of my opportunities when I've got them," Sharpe said.
"If you worry about things (reaching 100 Tests) too much you'll burn a lot of energy," Sharpe said.
But Sharpe was accorded the honour of reaching the century milestone when he was one of eight changes announced Wednesday to the Australia side to face Wales in the bronze final.
Deans paid tribute to Sharpe, placing him alongside rivals second row Matfield, who is retiring from Test rugby following the defending champion Springboks' quarter-final loss to the Wallabies.
"It's a great milestone. From what I've observed he's a class act, Sharpie, good bloke to have in the group, he's got a huge amount of respect from his peers, but he's a master of the lineout," Deans said.
"He and Victor Matfield have probably been the best two lineout exponents in the last decade and it's a rivalry that's long standing.
"You only have to look at the respect of those two blokes to see what he offers his peers."
Sharpe, who is contracted by Perth-based Western Force to play in next season's Super 15, said he would make a decision on his playing future mid next year.
The veteran lock said it was "bloody tough" sitting on the sidelines and watching the All Blacks dump the Wallabies out of the tournament in last Sunday's semi during a match the hosts won 20-6.
"It was one of those times when you want to be involved, it was a crucial match for the team but it doesn't always work out the way you like it to," he said.
"There are some guys coming into the team this week that will bring some freshness who didn't play last week and at the end of the day you are playing for your country and it's a great opportunity."
Sharpe recounted his best playing memories as: "The 2003 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, the 2003 World Cup final (which Australia lost to England), every time we've beaten England at Twickenham and winning at Bloemfontein in South Africa last year for the first time on the high veldt for many years."