Love them or loathe them, but with three back to back European Cups, and top four in the Top 14 for the last 4 years it’s hard to argue that Toulon’s star studded band of merry men – including Matt Giteau – aren’t one of the best teams in the Northern Hemisphere.
Personally, I’m a supporter. I love seeing the big names tear it up, and sometimes, in those moments of schadenfreude, it’s nice to see them get brought down to earth with the occasional spanking.
Either way one of the key players in the squad is Matt Giteau, and again I’m going to nail my colours to the mast from the off and say I’m a fan.
You don’t get 92 caps for a team like Australia if you can’t mix it at the top and, putting all the politics aside, when I heard he was leaving Australia to play in France I was saddened that I wouldn’t see him play on the big stage any longer. I was also quietly relieved, as an Englishman, that he wouldn’t be tearing open our defence with his footwork and passing vision.
One of the most enjoyable Australian teams I can remember watching was the 2010 side. Ok, it might not have been a vintage year results wise but with Cooper at 10, Giteau at 12, Ioane at 11 and JOC at 14/15… well, lets just say that the team that year played some insanely good attacking Rugby.
Giteau for me has always had the rare ability to just be in the right place at the right time, I guess that is reading the game, but lots of players are great game readers. Giteau however is just something different. Going back to 2010, the second test against England, Giteau’s try is still one of the best examples of pass and follow rugby I can find.
I guess though, the big question is has playing in Europe dulled his instincts? Perhaps – we’ll have to wait and see. But he’s certainly been a player that’s been able to stand up in the pressure matches at the tail end of the Top 14 and European Rugby Champions Cup, and we shouldn’t forget Cheika has European Experience coaching both Leinster in the European Cup and Stade Francais in the Top 14 – he knows the level of competition.
Whilst others have capitulated and folded when the pressure has come on, Giteau has been there leading from the front, continuing to put in the hits and lead his team with some authority. Lets not forget this is a team full of leaders, a team that contains players like Ali Williams, Juan Smith, Juan-Martinez Hernandez, Carl Hayman, and Bakkies Botha to name but a few.
Additionally I think there is a point in how Toulon play the game, using big heavy forwards to punch over the gainline, it is a style favoured by Cheika at the Waratahs, and one I think we’ll see from the Wallabies this year.
When it comes down to it I think we’ll see Giteau play for the Wallabies, and putting aside all the politics of should he or shouldn’t he be there, a 92 cap veteran can only be good for the leadership of the squad (as long as he’s worth his place).
I think if he gets the nod it will most likely be at 12 outside Cooper, rather than at 10 (though I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he slots in at 10 for a couple of the games).