With the level debate over the Wallaby backline selection growing to a fever pitch, let’s stop for a minute to look rationally at how we got to this point, because it actually clearly shows what the selectors must do next.
Cast your minds back to the start of Connolly’s reign, following the debacle of the 2005 Wallaby tour to Europe. The previous coach, Eddie Jones, had become an embattled, lone figure. Amongst his designated faults was a penchant for picking certain players regardless of attitude and performance. In many peoples eyes the auto-selection of George Gregan as half-back and captain epitomised this policy.
Wisely, Knuckles spotted that dethroning Gregan from both Captaincy and team not only sent a big message to the players, but also bought time with Joe Public who had become sick of seeing a lack-lustre Gregan pushing South African referees over the edge with his verbal diarrhoea.
So who to play half-back? Sam Cordingly turns up again and starts playing blinders for Queensland, and then promptly busts his foot. Chris ‘piss poor timing’ Whitaker has already announced his Aussie retirement and Matt Henjack might as well be on the moon for his impact on the selectors.
But hang on a minute, didn’t wonder-kid Giteau used to play half back as a schoolboy? With utility back Matt Rogers still on the scene there would be cover in the inside backs to try this experimental stop gap. And thus began the great Australian back-line experiment; all making sense at the time.
But circumstances have changed.
For a start, there is no longer the gaping hole at half-back. The ‘resting’ of Gregan has put a spring back in his step, as evident in his combination with Bernie Larkham for the Brumbies revival at the end of the Super 14. Most notably when the two of them bossed the game against All-Black surrogates The Crusaders. The time out has also removed his question of captaincy. In Josh Holmes there is a long-term heir apparent, and Cordingly’s foot is even holding up.
Secondly, with Rogers going we no longer have the inside back cover. Ironically, over this season Giteau has cemented his position as one of the best inside backs in the southern hemisphere, if not the world with his time at the Force. It was also obvious to anyone watching last Saturday that Giteau doesn’t have the pass to be a world class half-back.
Would Ireland play O’Driscoll at 10 or the Kiwis put Carter on the wing?
In summary, this experiment has turned a world class inside centre into an average half-back, to fill a half back spot that no longer needs him, thereby leaving an inside centre position that we have no-one to fill.
Compare this with what we could have: 9 Gregan, 10 Larkham, 12 Giteau, 13 Mortlock. Experienced, top class in each position in a World Cup year, all having played in combination together before. Fine, rotate in understudies like Cordingly, Holmes, Norton-Knight and Ashley-Cooper, but keep the right combinations in place, in position.
Looking at where we are in 2007, this is only logical solution left. The question is – can the Wallabies selectors find it in time?
Score and Scorers
New Zealand – 41
Tries: I. Dagg (21′) J. Savea (27′), B. Smith (48′), A. Savea (55′), S. Whitelock (64′), TJ Perenara (70′).
Conversions: B. Barrett (28′,49′, 57′, 71′)
Penalty: B. Barrett (8′)
South Africa – 13
Try: B. Habana (18′)
Conversion: E. Jantjies (19′)
Penalties: E. Jantjies (36′, 52′)
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