Rugby Reg’s Rookie Review.

Rugby Reg’s Rookie Review.

In one of those numerical type quirks that can excite some people (not me it must be noted), in the ten tests played by the Wallabies in 2010, coach Robbie Deans has used ten rookies.  This means that a little under a third of the players used by Deans this year are first year rookies.

Out of interest, how does this compare with previous years? Well, last year we only had four test debutants – Peter Kimlin, Pek Cowan, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale. 2008 was more like this year though with nine newbies getting their shot in the first ten tests of the year.

So why not we take a quick look at our class of 2010, how they’ve gone and have a go at looking forward to what their immediate Wallaby future (the next 12 months) might hold for them.

Rob Horne (Waratahs)

Debut Test: v Fiji in Canberra on 5th June playing Outside Centre.
Tests Played: 6 (6 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: 7 v FIJ; 6 v ENG (1); 5 v ENG (2); 4 v IRL; 6 v SAF (1); 4 v NZL (1).

Season Review: Was probably the only Wallaby debutant this year to have fully deserved his spot on form alone. Without taking anything from the other debutants, Horne was the only one to have earned his spot on performance, and not an injury to another. Sure Mortlock was out, but he isn’t the sure selection he once was. Horne’s S15 form was enough, just, to earn him the spot probably ahead of Will Chambers of the Reds.  But the big question is did he make the most of his opportunity? I am saying no. Perhaps there’s some form of vortex surrounding the Wallaby 13 jersey, though, that renders its wearer somewhat anonymous. Or perhaps it’s just the team game plan, or the decisions of his inside players. Regardless Horne has far from prominent and failed to make the jersey his own, despite half a dozen tests to do so. Unfortunately it all ended in the worst possible way. Another injury in a (albeit short) career that has been dogged by them.

Outlook: We won’t see Robbie again this year, and perhaps that’s a good thing. The more time this man takes to get his body healthy and strong, the better. Come the World Cup in New Zealand, however, the selectors won’t want to carry anyone carrying niggles. Kurtley Beale’s form at fullback, leaving Adam Ashley-Cooper able to play 13 may limit Horne’s opportunities down the track.

Salesi Ma’afu (Brumbies)

Debut Test: v Fiji in Canberra on 5th June playing Tight Head Prop.
Tests Played: 10 (10 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: 6 v FIJ; 3 v ENG (1); 4 v ENG (2); 5 v IRL; 7 v SAF (1); 4 v NZL (1), 3 v NZL (2), 5 v SAF (2); 3 v SAF (3); 6 v NZL (3).

Season Review: One of five front row debutants this year, Ma’afu has been one of the most questioned selections all season-long.  The Big Bopper leap-frogged a number of more ‘widely acceptable’ players either because of injury (Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander) or selector indifference (Al Baxter and Laurie Weeks). Salesi was one of the most maligned players test after test with many questioning his work rate and scrum technique. Deans lauded his performance in the Brisbane test against the Boks proclaiming that Salesi had ‘proved he could play at this level’, and to be fair he had a cracking game. But we haven’t seen it since and I for one question whether he’s actually proved much at all.

Outlook: He’s a definite to tour. Isn’t he? He’d have to be. One of only three players to play all tests for the year, so he’s sure to be picked despite some forum members wishing otherwise. He’ll face some opposition though with Benny Alexander finding his feet again after injury and even the another test rookie, James Slipper, showing his potential from the bench. Come the RWC? He’s every chance to be there, but with no more ‘building’ to do we may see Al Baxter back in favour to back up a (hopefully) fit and in form Alexander.

Huia Edmonds (Brumbies)

Debut Test: v Fiji in Canberra on 5th June playing Hooker.
Tests Played: 3 (1 start)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: 5 v FIJ; did not rate v ENG (1); did not rate v ENG (2);

Season Review: Debuting at the ripe oldish age of 28, Huia benefited from injuries to first choice hookers Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau to be selected at hooker for the first test of the year. Perhaps it was because of his combination with fellow Brumby front rowers, Alexander and Ma’afu, because many anticipated the Reds Saia Faingaa to snag the spot. Suffice to say Edmonds didn’t set the world on fire, and lost his starting jersey pretty quickly and dropped out of the squad as soon as Squeaky Moore was back from injury, only returning for the last test of the year, when Faingaa was suspended to sit on the bench all game.

Outlook: He’s in the training squad of 40, but may struggle to make the cut for the final touring team with boom Sydney Uni and Force hooker Nathan Charles a real chance to get his shot behind Moore and Faingaa. As for next year? Well we’re all praying for the healthy return of Taf who forms a fantastic combination with Moore. As for Huia? Well he can take some delight that he’ll finish his career with one more test than his brother Manny.

Saia Faingaa (Reds)

Debut Test: v Fiji in Canberra on 5th June playing Hooker, from the bench.
Tests Played: 9 (6 starts)
Points:  0
G&GR Ratings: 5 v FIJ; 4 v ENG (1); 5 v ENG (2); 7 v IRL; 6 v SAF (1); 6 v NZL (1), 6 v NZL (2), 5 v SAF (2); 1 v SAF (3).

Season Review: After a break through Super 14 season where he showcased his strong work ethic and impressive defensive work, Faingaa received a Wallaby call up, much like Huia, somewhat by default. Unlike Huia, Faingaa managed to show some abilities in the green and gold and start in half a dozen tests, including a strong match v Ireland.  Whilst he managed to keep Moore to the bench on occasions, Squeaky finished the season as the test hooker and will hold onto that mantle come the Spring Tour. Especially with Saia undoing a lot of his good work with a disastrous cameo against South Africa in Bloemfontein when he was yellow carded, at a vital time, for a dangerous tackle.

Outlook: As I wrote for Huia, ALL Wallaby fans want TPN and Moore to stay fit and healthy in 2011. But the #3 hooker spot will be up for grabs. Saia, assuming he’s picked, will be under pressure from the impressive Charles this tour and then it will all come down to the Super 15.  Added local derbies will make the one-on-one battles between TPN, Moore, Faingaa and Charles a fascinating sideline to the competition as a whole. Having had the experience of nine tests (so far) under his belt will, however, serve him well.

Matt Hodgson (Force)

Debut Test: v Fiji in Canberra on 5th June playing back row from the bench.
Tests Played: 3 (0 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: did not rate v FIJ; did not rate v ENG (1); 6 v NZL (2),

Season Review: It’s hard to say much here, other than that I wish he was used more. Deans’s use of his bench has been an angle he’s been questioned on this year and Hodgson was one of the bench players that seemed to suffer the most. It is easily argued that Hodgo was the form forward of the Australian Super 14 campaign in 2010. Why this didn’t evolve in to more test minutes, even a start,  is something only Robbie can answer. The big kick in the teeth for Matt was that the test where Deans did use his bench more, v the Boks in Brisbane, was the test he was a late pull out for and he had to watch as Force team mate Ben McCalman not only debuted, but then kicked on later in the season.

Outlook: He’ll tour and, at the moment, he HAS to be the back up to Pocock at open side, unless the selectors decide to reinvigorate Phil Waugh’s career. His versatility in being able to play all three back row positions, makes him a valuable squad member and he will be a big shot of being in the RWC squad next year.

Ben Daley (Reds)

Debut Test: v England in Perth on 12th June playing Loose Head Prop.
Tests Played: 3 (3 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: 3 v ENG (1); 4 v ENG (2); 6 v IRL;

Season Review: Arguably picked to keep the “Ben” quota up in the front row. Daley had an excellent S14 and is highly regarded but still he was unlikely to be considered if it wasn’t for the injuries to Alexander and Robinson.  Like Faingaa, no one could fault Daley’s intent however he seemed not quite physically ‘up to it’, be it in scrums or in heavy contact. Lost his spot, understandably, once Robinson was back.

Outlook: Daley has been named in the initial 40 man training squad, but whether he makes the final cut is questionable. If all players are available he is probably behind Robinson, Alexander and probably James Slipper as a loose head option.  Might be better served spending the off-season in the gym. Still a definite chance for the World Cup, particularly if Slipper evolves into the Tight Head back up to Alexander.

James Slipper (Reds)

Debut Test: v England in Perth on 12th June playing Prop from the bench.
Tests Played: 9 (0 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: did not rate v ENG (1); did not rate v ENG (2); did not rate v IRL; did not rate v SAF (1); did not rate v NZL (1), 6 v NZL (2),5 v SAF (2); 5 v SAF (3); 4 v NZL (3).

Season Review: A bolt from the blue that’s for sure.  Came off the bench in one game, and then started in the last game of the season v the Highlanders. Next thing we knew, he was in the Wallaby training squad and would go on to appear in all Wallaby games, bar the first v Fiji.  Showed enough promise, often coming on for Ma’afu, to prove it was an astute selection by Deans and co. Has now played three times as many tests as Super 14 games for Queensland.

Outlook: Slipper will definitely tour. He was the biggest selection gamble of the season so far, and could possibly be the one that pays out the most.  With the versatility to play both sides of the scrum, he should remain in the Wallaby 22 with both Robinson and Alexander starting. A full season with the Reds, for whom he will be sure to share the starting spots with Daley, Greg Holmes and Guy Shepherdson, should see him a leading candidate for a World Cup jersey.

Rob Simmons (Reds)

Debut Test: v South Africa in Brisbane on 24th July playing Lock from the bench.
Tests Played: 4 (0 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: did not rate v SAF (1); 6 v NZL (1), 6 v NZL (2),4 v SAF (2).

Season Review: Only started in half a dozen games for the Reds this year, but showed enough to deserve a spot in the Wallaby squad.  Came off the bench in four games during the Tri-Nations as our locking depth was tested. As a specialist lock, there was limited scope for him to shine and he would eventually drop out of the test 22 as Mark Chisholm’s experience saw him back in the side.

Outlook: Simmo will tour, that’s for sure. He’s even an outside chance for a test start with Big Chis under a fitness cloud.  He’ll battle with Kane Douglas from the Waratahs, who plays a very similar game. In the end the spot will go to the one who has the greater physical presence in tight and can control the lineout. It should be an intriguing battle on this tour and through next years Super 15 as they battle it out for a Wallaby jersey.

Ben McCalman (Force)

Debut Test: v South Africa in Brisbane on 24th July playing back row the bench.
Tests Played: 4 (2 starts)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: did not rate v SAF (1); 6 v SAF (2); 7 v SAF (3); 7 v NZL (3).

Season Review: The somewhat unheralded Force forward was another bold selection that has, so far, paid off for Deans.  He was part of last year’s training squad for the Wallaby Spring tour, but ultimately missed selection. This year, he was brought into the Wallaby side for the Springbok test in Brisbane when Matty Hodgson was ruled out through injury. A couple of enterprising showings from the bench, and a seeming lack of impact from number 8 Richard Brown, had McCalman in the starting side come the last two games of the Tri-Nations. He was busy in his starting debut v the Boks, but really stood up in a non-stop effort in the Sydney loss to the All Blacks.

Outlook: Very promising. He doesn’t possess the same power game that Cliffy Palu does, but his work rate and uncompromising approach probably allows Rocky Elsom a bit more latitude to run a little wider. This provides for a much more balanced back row. His international career has followed a very similar path to that of Brown, who impressed as a late replacement for the Wallabies two years ago. Since then Brown has failed to go on with the promise, so let’s hope McCalman can.  His willingness to play with intent seems to suit test match rugby well and hopefully it can rub off on some of his team mates.

Anthony Faingaa (Reds)

Debut Test: v New Zealand in Melbourne on 31st July playing inside centre from the bench.
Tests Played: 4 (1 start)
Points: 0
G&GR Ratings: did not rate v NZL (1), 5 v NZL (2), 5 v SAF (3); did not rate v NZL (3).

Season Review: Got his test debut from the bench v the All Blacks in Melbourne following Quade Cooper’s suspension for a dangerous tackle. Faingaa would join his brother Saia in the starting team the following week in Christchurch. It was a nervous debut and Anthony was shown up in his defensive re-alignments, quite crucially, a couple of times. A couple of more cameos from the bench towards the end of the season displayed his willingness, if not much else.

Outlook: He should tour, as we are lacking centres at the moment. Whether he’s a chance to start over the likes of Giteau and Barnes is unlikely. He’s working on his goal kicking, which could only help him.  Like his brother, he has a fantastic attitude which coaches love in a touring situation.  As to next year and the World Cup? For both Faingaas it will be a case of starting again come the start of the Super 15 to show that they can raise their game to another level and are ready for a regular Wallaby spot.


The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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