Phil Waugh (NSW): The Waratah skipper has been criticised by many this season, albeit mostly by non-Tah fans. It’s fair to say he looked off the pace and incapable of really stamping his authority on a game. This has changed lately, perhaps it’s the contract talks, and he’s starting to look more like the Waugh of old. There’s no question the Tahs would be half the team they are without him, which is scary.
The likely candidates:
George Smith (ACT): This guy continues to amaze me with his consistency and quality. After almost 200 professional games of rugby over the last 9 years, plus intermittent club and trial games, he’s entitled to be off his game at times. If he is ever, it rarely ever lasts more than a game or two. Sure he kicks too much, and plays wide at times, but it still has that innate ability to force the turnover when most needed.
David Pocock (WA): Better than Richie McCaw at his age. So believes Robbie Deans. So whether a 21 year old ‘McCaw’ is better than a 28 year old Smith (yep, that’s right, he’s still only 28!) is the question. There is no question as to his abilities however. Almost a perfect combination of Smith and Waugh. Toughness and skill.
The Roughies: No one! Perhaps Richard Brown? But no, not really.
What is Deans looking for?
A World XV player. I think Bob Dwyer said it first, for a team to win the World Cup (or a top ranked team I guess) it needs to have five players who are World XV quality. This position is one of the few that Australia have a chance of having that player in. Yes, I know Richie McCaw is still around, but if anyone has shown signs of form slippage of late, it’s Richie. Leaving the door open for George, David or Phil…well George or David.
Who is the answer?
To me, you just can’t go past George Smith. He is far and away the best openside in Australia. But managing his game time will become an increasingly delicate proposition as 2011 approaches meaning that, at least Pocock, still has a key role to play. Of course the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench, the pain in the ass, is Europe. Will Smith go? Will Phil go? If they do then there’s no point picking them this year at all. Meaning young Mr Pocock will be required to step up. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing by any means.