The big news out of left field is the demise of Rocky Elsom as Wallaby captain and the promotion of James Horwill to succeed him, effective as of today.
There have been undercurrents of disatisfaction about Rocky’s performances over recent weeks, although a better display against the Springboks last weekend was thought to have quelled any lingering question marks about his form and leadership.
Robbie Deans and John O’Neill have made the big call – taking the pressure of captaincy off him so he can concentrate on his game. I’m not sure the responsibility sat comfortably on Rocky’s shoulders, so it’s probably an opportunity for him to focus solely on regaining form.
Robbie Deans said ‘It is well documented that Rocky came into the Test season off a limited background in terms of preparation, having missed all but 60 minutes of Super Rugby due to injury.
‘As the incumbent captain, he warranted the opportunity to continue in the role but it has become clear that the additional responsibility has been a distraction that Rocky doesn’t need.
‘We all felt it was in the best interest, both of Rocky and of the team, to relieve him of the extra duties, with James’s recent experience making him the best option to take over in the role.’
I think this change might also suggest that Scott Higginbotham is becoming a real threat of overtaking Rocky as the Wallaby No. 6 and maybe that the latter could be heading overseas post RWC.
James Horwill’s appointment will be a popular choice, especially considering his stature as Queensland captain after this season’s Super Rugby success. He’s held in high regard by everybody associated with the game and his form this year has been outstanding.
Apart from dropping this bombshell, the selectors haven’t thrown up too many surprises in picking their RWC squad. Matt Giteau is obviously not there, as indicated yesterday by the player himself.
To me, this is a disappointment because I think he offers coverage of 9, 10 and 12, and Nick Phipps, the number three scrum-half, hasn’t done enough to warrant selection. I can understand that with Burgo going after the RWC a backup half will be required, but this tournament really is no place to blood juniors. Haven’t we learnt from the Samoan disaster?
Gits is a pretty handy backup, especially when you need someone with experience to settle a young backline in some of those second tier pool matches. I’m not sure whether he’s been fingered for a shadow role, but probably not by the tone of his tweets?
Where is the No. 7 backup in this squad? They’ve left Matt Hodgson out completely. Sure, he didn’t have a great game against Samoa, but neither did anyone else and he hasn’t had many other opportunities.
The squad is top heavy with No. 8s and blindside flanker-cum-locks. I can only assume Higgers will be playing openside against some of the lesser lights — he’s got the speed — but I’ve never seen him play that position before.
The selectors have taken a gamble on the six injured players whom they’ve resurrected: Barnes, Palu, Horne, Mitchell, TPN and Slipper. Barnes and Horne have been playing club rugby recently and the rest have passed fitness tests this week.
Cliffy has played a limited amount of rugby over the past couple of years so I think he, and the injury-prone Rob Horne, are the biggest rolls of the dice.
I’m at a loss to see why Horne is a Robbie favourite? In my view, he’s achieved very little throughout his short Wallaby career and I’m not sure why you’d persevere with him this year when he’d be better off rehabbing those dodgy hammies for a future tilt at international selection.
Apart from the above, the players to miss out are Mark Gerrard, Lachie Turner, Rod Davies, Luke Morahan, Dave Dennis, Dean Mumm, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Daley, Pek Cowan and James Hanson. Benn Robinson pulled out earlier in the week.
The makeup of the front row is interesting. The underperforming Ma’afu gets a guernsey. So, aren’t Slipper, Alexander and Ma’afu all ‘recognised’ tightheads now? They have been of late, with only Kepu playing loosehead. WTF is going on? Someone’s going to have to revert to loosehead – that’ll play havoc with their technique….
All up there are 10 players from the Reds, 9 Waratahs, 6 Brumbies, 4 Force and 1 Rebel. Apart from a couple I’ve discussed, I think this is pretty much the best squad available and you couldn’t quibble about its overall strength.
Robbie and the other selectors get an 8 out 10 from me.
Wallaby RWC Squad:
Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, Salesi Ma’afu, James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Saia Faingaa, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman, Rocky Elsom, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, Cliff Palu, Radike Samo, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Luke Burgess, Nick Phipps, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Faingaa, Rob Horne, James O’Connor, Digby Ioane, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale.