Forgive me for getting all maudlin on you, it is my birthday after all. And what good is a birthday, particularly one that comes any time after your 30th, if not for allowing just a little bit of sentiment to arise. Today I popped my ‘media’ cherry. I attended my first ever press conference as a member of the working (note I didn’t say ‘paid’) media, and it just happened to be the announcement of the Wallaby team to play the Springboks this Saturday night.
Now, alllllllll the way back in 1988 when our school’s work experience week was fast approaching, my father pulled some strings at the local newspaper here in Briso and got me a spot there. It was my first taste of sports journalism and it was a memorable one.
I remember going to a training session for the touring Great Britain Rugby League team and enjoying the antics of Ellery Hanley and Henderson Gill as they engaged in a goal kicking contest from the sidelines. I remember going out to Chandler Aquatic Centre to see a photo shoot with swimmer Julie McDonald who would not long later win bronze for Australia in the 800m freestyle at the Seoul Olympics. I also remember being taken to the opening of a pub just for journos, as a 15 year old, and later wondering why Jimmy Tucker needed to go for a hair cut on the way home.
Now it’s hard to suggest I was bitten by the journalistic bug. It was by no means one of those life-defining moments that would set me on a career path to see me through to retirement. It was a week which I still look back at fondly probably because of the athletes I got to get close to and because of the fairly relaxed attitude of the journos – the likes of Tucker, Mark Oberhardt and Gary Smart.
That’s why there was a certain poignancy to my debut appearance at a proper press conference (a ‘presser’, apparently) for me today. It would be remiss of me not to thank Mr Matt Gagger for providing the avenue for me to have that opportunity. Cheers Gaggs.
But onto the event itself. You’ve no doubt already seen the teams in Lance’s post, so this will just take another look at the team including some of the discussions within the announcement itself.
We were first presented with coach Robbie Deans alongside Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau, whilst we were handed the team on a piece of paper. There was no formal announcement of the team, no welcoming of the media, no free lunch. It was straight into it – get those questions happening!
Most of the early discussion was on the selection of Saia Faingaa ahead of Stephen Moore, a story with a little twist when you consider that the Reds, under Phil Mooney, effectively swapped the latter for the former. Coach Deans, who can never be accused of using ten words when five will do, in the end put it down to backing the players who had done the job so far. Match fitness, or a lack of it for Moore, was also a factor but it would seem that Faingaa had done enough to keep Moore at bay. The same could obviously not be said for Ben Daley and the returning Benn Robinson.
My first question was what Robbie hoped to gain from the positional switching of James O’Connor and Adam Ashley-Cooper. Perhaps my question wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps Robbie has been caught up in the latest election speak, but I didn’t get a direct answer. What I did get was just as interesting though. Robbie explained that they had given JOC the 15 spot thus far this year to give him the opportunity to step up and lead the back three. Whilst Robbie stated that he’d thought James had come along way, my reading is that the reason for the move is that he hasn’t done enough in this regard. Robbie seems to be looking for more leadership from the back three. Perhaps a reason for the recall of Cameron Shepherd with Hynes injured?
On the flip side, for JOC at least, is that Robbie still wants him in the team. Perhaps encouraged by (1) the selection of the diminutive Gio Aplon for the Boks, and (2) the impressive performances of Cory Jane, a relocated fullback of similar size and playing style to O’Connor, for the All Blacks.
A follow up question, by a more seasoned journo (well, an actual journo) was whether AAC’s style of play was more suited to fullback. Robbie’s reply was that he felt that The Earl had “mastered” the position of fullback. Perhaps an indication that he doesn’t feel JOC has as yet, or that AAC hasn’t “mastered” wing?
There was a lot of talk of Aplon during the conference. I think the SAF media were fishing for a derogatory comment about his stature, but Quade, Gits and Robbie were very diplomatic. The general feeling is that the Boks believe that Suncorp is a ‘fast field’, thus the selection of the likes of Gio, Pienaar and Kankowski.
Everything else was fairly straight forward.
Robbie was asked as to whether he considers the Boks as cheats. A flat out ‘no’ was the response along with the expected “we’re just focusing on ourselves.”
“Who’s kicking?”, was another astute question (not mine). And the answer is Gits. Solely. Confidently. Defiantly.
My next question was about the use of the bench, and whether Robbie went into the match with any preconceived tactics as to how he would use it, or whether it was
something that would just happen on the night. Again, rather obviously, it was the latter although he did make an assurance that Moore would get game time. No such assurance was made for Rob Simmons though.
I also asked the question about Scotty Higginbotham and whether it was tempting to utilise his size against the Boks. But his lack of match fitness worked against him. He’ll play club this weekend and I get the impression the squad have been run through the wringers a bit this last week and a half.
Then the questions dried up and Robbie, Quade and Gits left to be replaced by Fat Cat Robinson and Saia Faingaa. This session was probably a little shorter but enough to garner that, again, the forwards had had some fairly intense sessions of late. I queried whether a lack of combination might be a factor, considering we have a Brumby, a Tah and a Red in the front row.
This was denied by Mr Robinson, due to the fact that they have “similar scrummaging styles” and that they have done puh-lenty of scrummaging at training, including a big session that morning. Now, I may have misheard but I THINK he said, they did 30 scrums which didn’t sound particularly ‘big’ to me. But I’m happy to put that down to simple misinterpretation (of the quantity or even just the intensity of the session).
And then it was over. The players left, the cameras left, and I….left. It was pretty short, not always that sharp, but a pretty cool experience. Now I’m just looking forward to the Captain’s Run and Captain’s Conference on Friday, and then the game itself. I can’t wait!