Robbie Deans has steered clear of any dramatic changes to his Wallaby side to take on the All Blacks in yet another Bledisloe dead rubber this weekend. There are two solitary changes to the team that were run down by the All Blacks in their last encounter. Drew Mitchell, who missed the Sydney test with a bum hammy, returns for the grossly unlucky Lachie Turner (who won the Wallaby Player’s Player award in that last Bledisloe). In the pack big, bouncy Benny Alexander reclaims the Wallaby “3” jersey he last wore in Cardiff last November.
Alexander was at loose head prop for the very first test of this year, against Fiji, when suffered a bad knee ligament injury. A few club games towards the end of the season was enough to see him back in Wallaby contention come squad selection time. It would seem he’s now down enough to take the place of Brumby’s team mate, Salesi Ma’afu, who was one of only three players to start in every Wallaby test this year. Ma’afu drops out of the squad completely with James Slipper preferred on the bench due to his greater ability to cover both sides of the scrum.
The team to face New Zealand this Saturday night is:
15 Kurtley Beale (Waratahs); 14 James O’Connor (Force); 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies); 12 Matt Giteau (Brumbies); 11 Drew Mitchell (Waratahs); 10 Quade Cooper (Reds); Will Genia (Reds); 8 Ben McCalman (Force); 7 David Pocock (Force); 6 Rockey Elsom [c] (Brumbies); 5 Nathan Sharpe (Force); 4 Mark Chisholm (Brumbies); 3 Ben Alexander (Brumbies); 2 Stephen Moore (Brumbies); 1 Benn Robinson (Waratahs).
Reserves: 16 Saia Faingaa (Reds); 17 James Slipper (Reds); 18 Dean Mumm (Waratahs); 19 Richard Brown (Force); 20 Luke Burgess (Waratahs); 21 Berrick Barnes (Waratahs); 22 Lachlan Turner (Waratahs).
Deans avoided the opportunity to make any other changes to his side, despite opportunities to. Reds speedster Rodney Davies spent a fair amount of time training with the test team this week, but misses out on the squad all together. It means that if Deans is to blood him in a test this tour, it will be on the much heavier grounds of Europe. Conditions that don’t necessarily play to Davies’ strength.
Now don’t get me wrong, Mitchell was superb for the Waratahs this year. But his form for the Wallabies has been up and down more than Rodney Blake at an all you can eat buffet. His ability to play an absolute corker one match and follow it with a piece of tripe the next is matched only by his inconsistency during the actual match. As per the Melbourne Bledisloe earlier this year, he can be Drewster the Rooster one minute and a crappy old feather duster the next. To be fair, however, he aint Robinson Crusoe in this area for the Wallabies. It’s a team, or backline, filled with what you might describe as enigmatic players. Those that win you, or cost you, a game in any given moment.
Now I am all for these types of players in the team. Quade Cooper? Looooove ’em! Like a brother….But, I think we can only handle so many in a team at one time. A back three of Gilbert, JOC and Shmoo gives me the willies in its fragility. I’d love to see it balanced out with a more resolute and dependable player. A Rob Egerton or Marty Roebuck if you will. Lachie Turner did this in the Sydney test. Peter Hynes has done it in the past for the Wallabies. Rodney Davies did it for the Reds this year.
This team also seems to suggest that Matt Giteau is nigh on untouchable in the Wallaby jumper (if only he played that way). Despite an almost complete inability to impose himself on a game, missing CRUCIAL kicks again and again and seemingly lacking any combination with anyone in this Wallaby team, Gits remains. For anyone that saw Berrick Barnes’s performances for Sydney University, with ball in hand and from foot, it isa disappointing decision. Previously goal kicking seemed the one thing that could keep Giteau in the team, but the way Barnes kicked for Uni (and indeed Kurtley has for the Wallabies), this should no longer be the enough. Let’s not forget that this time last year, Berrick was the vice-captain of this Wallabies team.
If there was one further opportunity for Deans to make changes it was in the second row. Mark Chisholm seems to once again be playing the role of fill-in at lock for the Wallabies. For someone so big, strong, fast and skillfull his Wallaby career has been somewhat disappointing (albeit as disappointing as it is for someone to represent their country on more than 50 occasions). He came close to missing the tour through injury, and personally I wish he did.
Let me make it clear I mean no ill-harm to big Chiz – certainly not in person, but we all know he’s just holding the position down for Horwill and possibly even Vickerman. So why not give some one else the chance to play in this test which, in the scheme of things, is far from the most important test of the decade. Young Rob Simmons or Kane Douglas (who for some reason was overlooked for this touring squad) would’ve been much better options for this game.
Ok I know, I know. I hear ya’. “It’s still a test match Reg. It’s still a bloody Bledisloe Cup match!” I know that. Maybe it’s because it bloody doesn’t feel like one tucked away over there in Hong Kong where about 25,000 people are set to attend. When was the last time a damn Bledisloe Cup match drew that small a crowd? It’d have to be back in the amatuer days at Ballymore wouldn’t it? Or….perhaps it was 12 months ago in the last one of these. I’ll have to get one of our interns to look into it for us.
Regardless, the match to me was an opportunity to try something new. Something different to what hasn’t worked for us in the last 10 tests the All Blacks have beaten us. I mean it was less than 12 months to go before our World Cup win of 1991 that coach Bob Dwyer was picking a rookie lock in John Eales alongside two of the most unlikely looking rugby players, the aforementioned Roebuck and Egerton, as the final pieces in his Championship puzzle. Likewise Rod McQueen was moving fullbacks to flyhalf to get the right answers for his 1999 win.
With the 2011 RWC fast approaching this is our last chance to mix it up a little, try something different and take a risk. Instead we’re rewarding the same players who couldn’t do it for us in the past.
Rather amazingly there are only three Waratahs in the starting XV (with another four on the bench) which seems at odds with where they finished in the Super 14 this year. Albeit Rob Horne and Tatafu Polata-Nau are unavailable through injury. Six Brumbies in the starting side (including half the pack) demonstrates their continued prominence in the Wallaby make-up whilst the Force have four starters with another on the bench, leaving the Reds with only two starters and two on the bench.