We are approximately a quarter of the way through the competition so it is timely to give Robbie Deans a hand and let him know what a Wallaby 22 would look like, based on this seasons’ form, if the Wallabies were playing a test match next week.
1. Benn Robinson (Tahs) – Has been by the most consistent of the Australian loose heads thus far. His all-round performance against the Reds was outstanding. After a somewhat below par scrummaging effort against the Highlanders, he underlined his authority with a dominate showing this week after being in doubt with a knee injury.
2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies) – Came off the boil a bit against the Force after a great start to the season. Is by far the most solid of the Hookers at the set piece and has added the ability to off-load in the tackle to his already impressive attack work rate.
3. Al Baxter (Tahs) – It seems to have taken Baxter three years to become an overnight success. He is now without question the best prop in Australia and this new found credibility is growing by the match. The way he contemptuous dispatched Greg Holmes’s best efforts on Friday night was ‘Andy Sheridan-esque’. He will be relishing shredding the Brumbies this week and his battle with either Henderson or Alexander will be pivotal.
4. Will Caldwell (Tahs) – Is playing like a real bully-boy this year and is the cornerstone of the all-conquering Tahs pack. Caldwell gets the nod over his Tahs team-mate Dean Mumm due to his more aggressive (in a nice way) play. His line-out work all year has been first class and has gone from being a Wallaby outsider last year to very much the kind of player they need. James Horwill will not be a walk up starter on his return if this type of form continues.
5. Mark Chisholm (Brumbies) – Is finally fulfilling the promise he has shown over the last couple of seasons. The form he displayed on the Wallaby tour has been carried through to the Super 14 where he is combining his natural ball running abilities and the hard work around the rucks and mauls.
6. Dean Mumm (Tahs) – Picked out of position but he is really the only candidate – another to have benefited from going away with the Wallabies at the end of last season. Can do it all and is the sort of mutli-talented player that you need to be a modern day blind-side flanker. Will be interesting to see what happens when Rocky Elsom is available again….
7. George Smith (Brumbies) – Still the best open-side but the gap is closing. Saw off the challenge from Pocock in his last outing, if only just, he now has to take on Capt Claret this weekend. A bit worrying the way he seems more intent on being a ball player in the last few games rather than just sticking to attacking runs.
8. Wyclif Palu (Tahs) – A big man who is using his size to his best advantage. Will never be a skillful type player and nor should he ever try to be as his ‘up the jumper’ running is so destructive. His work against the Highlanders was tremendous and this year he has been the Tahs major attacking weapon. Despite oppositions knowing exactly what he is going to do, they are still unable to stop him.
9. Luke Burgess (Tahs) – Gets the gig through the power of incumbency, it’s not that he is going well, it just that there isn’t anyone else.
10. Matt Giteau (Force) – Consistently the best of the Australian players. He is showing more and more that he is actually a fly-half, not an inside centre who is being made to play number 10. Giteau’s skills make a very average Force attack look much better than it actually is.
11. Digby Ionae (Reds) – Without doubt Diggers’ is showing the best form of his career, injury and suspension free, plus a new found ability to catch the ball, have made him the most dangerous of the Australian outside backs. His recent cameos at no.13 have also shown he is more than just a one trick pony and, in the years to come, a move into the centres would not be out of the question.
12. Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies) – Had his colours lowered by the Force but up until that time he was playing magnificently. It seems as though Morty has learnt how to throw a pass and this new skill could well prolong, what was up until this season, a flagging career. He has been the go to man all season for the Brumbies and puts the shit through most opponents comes up against.
13. Ryan Cross (Force) – I’ve never been a fan of Ryan X but I will begrudgingly acknowledge he is playing pretty well. Passed the test of facing the Brumbies centre combination with flying colours and is now looking comfortable as a rugby player. Has a great skill of beating his man on the outside which none of the other Australian centre have.
14. Peter Hynes (Reds) – After a slow start to the season, Marcia has shown his best in recent weeks. One thing that is often overlooked is his rock-solid defence, some of his tackling in South Africa was top shelf. A devastating broken field runner, more often than not he is the spark for the Reds’ brighter moments. If only he didn’t cough that ball up on Friday night…..sob!
15. Mark Gerrard (Brumbies) – Probably had his card marked ‘Never to play test rugby again’ after Richie McCaw ran him down with the line-wide open in a Bledisloe a few year ago, this year he has been a revelation. His tactical kicking and input into the Brumbies backline has been the catalyst for their victories and his maturity has held the Brumbies together. When he went off against the Force, the Brumbies seemed to totally drop their bundle and to me this was no coincidence.
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (Tahs) – In years previous, Taffy could always be counted on to make a total balls-up of the line-out. This year he has been rock-solid and has maintained his work-rate around the park. Just the kind of player to put on in the last 15-20 minutes of a test match to lift the intensity as well as being able to handle the basics
17. Nic Henderson (Brumbies) – The best of the rest as far as props go, it came down to him and Ben Alexander, but as Henderson is keeping Alexander out of the Brumbies team, he gets the reserve spot.
18. Scott Higginbotham (Reds) – The find of the season thus far. Injuries have forced him to play more minutes than otherwise would have been expected however, he has handled this task and shows improvement every week. Has been the Reds best forward this year and provides a legitimate line-out option as well.
19. David Pocock (Force) – He is the future and it is only a matter of time before he is number one. Has left Phil Waugh in his wake and is only a nose behind Smith. Pocock has improved his attacking abilities this season with some good ball running and deft passing. Without question he will be the first choice open-side for the 2011 World Cup
20. Josh Valentine (Force) – Before you shit-can this suggestion, justify a better one….at least Valentine seems to have the ability to deliver a decent pass to his support.
21. Berrick Barnes (Reds) – Covers the fly-half and inside centre spots and is pretty much the only player in Australia, apart from Gits, that can. Had a poor off-season with injury and has only gotten his timing back in the last couple of weeks. Barnes is showing some admirable leadership qualities after taking over as interim captain in James Horwill’s absence
22. Lachie Turner (Tahs) – Suffering from being on the end of the travesty that is the Tahs backline – at least he looks as if he wants to play some attacking footy. His performance, particularly his defence, against the Reds was fantastic and how the ‘man of the match’ went to Same Norton-Knight and not him is one of life’s great mysteries. Has the ability to cover numerous positions and some real class as well.