Last week I picked 19 players who, in my view, were certainties for selection in this year’s Wallaby test 22.
We’re now back to 18 after Cliffy Palu seriously injured his knee on the weekend and looks out for the count this year.
That leaves vacancies for only four more players. However, there’ll obviously be others who’ll appear as there are around 15 tests all up in 2010 including the extra All Black match in Hong Kong.
This week I’ll select the players who I think will be challenging those ‘dead certs’ and who should be in serious contention for a test jumper.
Again, there’s ‘too much information’ so I’ll split it in two for an interminably long series (sorry) of the World According to Garp Lance…..
Before you get excited, let’s put some of this into perspective. Bright young things that have just appeared on the scene are highly unlikely to be included in this category unless they’re positively outstanding.
I might do a follow-up post later on (“not another f*ckin’ one – you’re really milking this?”) about some of the young blokes on the horizon who I think will feature down the track. Gee, that Alcock kid was great the other day for the Tahs, wasn’t he?
Secondly, don’t include Dan Vickerman in any of your calculations because he’s not coming back to play Super 14 nor Wallabies rugby ever again. Not ever, never. Get over it and move on.
At hooker, there are a couple of young fellas around who one day may challenge the established test order. Damien Fitzpatrick from the Waratahs is one of those but certainly not at this stage – he hasn’t had the game time to establish his credentials yet.
So far the guy who has really impressed is Saia Faingaa from the Reds. Last year there were doubts about his capacity to step up to Super 14 level but given the extra responsibility due to Sean Hardman’s early season injury, he’s done that in spades.
The wobbly lineout throwing has been replaced with certainty and his scrummaging has improved out of sight. He always had the mobility around the field and his initial Australian U20 potential is being fulfilled. I think they’ll want to blood a third option for next year’s RWC.
A few years ago we were in desperate straits for props; hence Al Baxter and Matt Dunning’s continued selection. Those days are behind us with Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson on deck and a core group snapping at their heels.
You know who I’ve been impressed with lately? ‘Aussie’ Tim Fairbrother from the Force. I thought he was a journeyman but he’s shown plenty of technical ability and ticker under difficult circumstances. It’s too early to call him a challenger but I look forward to his remaining Super 14 games.
Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu and Salesi Ma’afu were the backup late last year and there’s no reason to suggest that this situation has changed, except maybe for Cowan.
Ma’afu is still on a development curve but has looked OK to date (his scrummaging was a little wobbly early in the season) and Kepu is handy in that he can play both sides. It’s a pity Kepu isn’t starting because he looks a likely lump with improvement potential.
Pek Cowan is back in his rightful loosehead position with the hooker experiment now terminated. He’s had a couple of good games recently but he hasn’t been in a position to challenge yet. Likewise Tucky Dunning has been injured and has only just returned.
There are a couple of blokes knocking on the door to the backup unit and that’s Laurie Weeks and Ben Daley from the Reds.
The Sharks put their efforts into perspective the other day when they gave them a lesson in mauling and forward control. They’ve got a lot to learn yet but I’m positive Daley is Wallaby material in the not too distant future.
His scrummaging is solid and his work rate and mobility around the park are excellent. To a lesser extent Weeks could be too but I think he probably needs more time. Problem is that he’s put himself under some selection pressure next year with his Rebels’ signing, as they’ll likely end up cellar-dwellers in their first season, as you do.
Do you know who Kane Douglas from the Tahs reminds me of? No, we’ve moved on from bloody Dan Vickerman! A young (this is a bit left field) former All Black Gary Whetton – Robson will know this.
Whetton was first selected for the ABs against the Springboks in 1981. He was raw but aggressive, a good lineout forward and very mobile around the park for a big man. That’s who Douglas looks like to me and he’ll be a serious challenger for Wallaby honours this year.
Ben Hand has been playing some top stuff for the Brumbies as well. I don’t think he’s been a contender before but this year he’s outshone Chizz and Googy Harrison and is their top lock.
He’s busy all around the field and organises their lineout. He may not be the biggest bloke going around (1.96m, 114kg) but is one of the few specialists left. I think he’d be a better option at lock than say, Dave Dennis.
Speaking of Dave, I like the guy. An old fashioned style of player but probably more suited to blindside flanker than second row, he was picked on the Spring Tour last year because (to some extent) he was the last man standing.
I think this year he’s performed creditably as a hard driving, no-nonsense style of player. He’ll be getting more opportunities to shine now that Palu is out.
Van Humphries of ‘let’s roll the thingeyme’ fame is having a renaissance for such an old bloke and maybe has come into contention. I think it unlikely they’d go with a 34 year old debutant but he’s playing the best rugby of his career, having rounded out his game from just being predominantly a lineout forward.
Eddie Jones used to call it ‘total rugby’. That’s where players are interchangeable and can play in different positions (in my day you were called a ‘utility’). Mind you, Eddie was picking Leroy Houston for higher honours the other day – I don’t bloody think so…..
In a season where Richie McCaw is playing at No. 6, Phil Waugh at No. 8 (sometimes), Mitch Chapman at lock and Big Kev Horwill at blindside flanker there might be something in that?
There’s a plethora of loosies challenging for a couple of spots. Ben Mowen was talked up by the Sydney press last year but hasn’t quite fulfilled their expectations.
Stephen Hoiles continues to impress with his skill level and leadership but there’s always question marks about his size and the style of game he plays. He suits those expansive, loose games as he’s a great support player and link between forwards and backs.
You know they’re champions when you can refer to them by only their Christian name. Richie….George….and Phil. The old ‘Waugh horse’ showed last weekend that he’s still got the skill and intent, but it’s only on view together occasionally these days.
He had a pearler of a game against the Crusaders and if he was doing that every week he’d be a challenger. But he isn’t, so he’s not. However, keep those performances up and that would change, unless the rumours about his demise were correct.
I reckon Scott Higginbotham is the major challenger for a loose forward position so far. He’s got power, size, athleticism and ability and has improved out of sight. There were defensive lapses last year but they’ve been eliminated.
He can play No. 6 or No. 8. A Pocock, Higginbotham and Elsom trio is becoming irresistible, with of course Matt Hodgson also in the mix (naturally).
Richard Brown is back from a long injury lay-off and has yet to mount a serious challenge. He started with a bang last year but didn’t quite pull it off. Some deficiencies were exposed (under the high ball and discipline) but he’s a single-minded sort of guy who’ll bounce back. Like Hoiles, there are question marks about size and his best position.
Rocky Elsom should be No. 8. That’s based on the premise of his Leinster form last year, his superior ball playing skills and power running off the back of the scrum.
The Challengers (Forwards):
Saia Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Salesi Ma’afu, Ben Daley, Kane Douglas, Ben Hand, Van Humphries, Dave Dennis, Stephen Hoiles and Scott Higginbotham.
Not yet a Challenger but I’m expecting them to be:
Pek Cowan, Phil Waugh and Richard Brown.
Back’s next week. What do you reckon?