We’re more than halfway through the Super 14 and wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall at Wallaby Selectors Robbie Deans, Jim Williams and David Nucifora’s weekly post-match conferences?
Just at the moment, everyone’s talking ‘inside backs’ but there’s plenty of talent from 1 – 22 being showcased. After eight rounds there’d be a consensus taking shape about established international’s form and non-Wallaby challengers.
To some degree form ebbs and flows with how your franchise is actually performing on the field and the good news is that most Australian teams are doing just that.
There’s too much information for one post on this contentious subject (and everybody’s got an opinion) so Part 1 will focus on ‘The Certainties’, Part 2 ‘The Challengers’.
I suppose you could say that there are no certainties in life apart from death and taxes? I know it’s early, but injuries and factors beyond our control aside, let’s look at who’s making the grade.
If one of the criterion is how well your franchise performs on the field then the Western Force will struggle to gain many international caps this year.
First choice test player Bam Pocock has been injured for most of the time but now that he’s returned to full fitness there’d be no doubt that he’ll regain his First XV status. He’s a dead cert despite us not having seen him play much this year.
That’s because he’s a champion and one of only a few players destined for bigger things i.e. world class status and Wallaby captaincy (after Mummy….if you read the Sydney press).
In his absence, Matt Hodgson has been superb at No. 7 and is a guy who’s versatility at 6, 7 and 8 will surely snare him a bench spot. I’d venture to say that he’s pushed Phil Waugh out of the reckoning.
Nathan Sharpe has led the Force well through difficult circumstances and his personal form now is just about at it’s best. He’s got the lineout back under control (after the Force throwing yips appear to be over) and leads the charge with his ball carries.
We’re not endowed with significant lock resources so it’s unlikely Sharpie will be put out to pasture as some have predicted and which was potentially telegraphed last year.
Rabbit O’Connor has been the ‘Mr Fixit’ of the Force appearing at fullback, five eighth, inside centre, and fullback again as a result of their injury dilemmas.
He’s one of their constants and looks dangerous and penetrative with ball in hand. He’ll certainly be in the test 22 as a utility, comfortable at fullback or inside centre. His defence has really hardened up.
Ryan Cross was a ‘certainty’ last year but has been completely out of form. A change to No. 12 may help him in the next few games but he’s got a mountain to climb.
The Brumbies have been something of an enigma. Laced with talent and sitting fairly well on the table, you feel they’re yet to fulfill their potential.
Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander have been going great guns in the front row and living up to their international status. Alexander has been playing at loosehead so you’d imagine his return to tighthead will come as early as is practicable (Wallabies v Fiji 6 June).
With Big Kev Horwill injured this year the selectors will be looking for a couple of locks to partner Sharpe. Mark Chisholm hasn’t set the world on fire this year – he was recently benched for backrower Mitch Chapman, who’s making a good fist of his ‘new’ career at lock.
Unless Chizz pulls his finger out and returns to the Brumbies starting lineup he may miss out. I like the look of Ben Hand this year but we’ll talk about him another time.
Rocky Elsom was quiet in the first few Brumbies games but has come into his own in later appearances. I’m not sure that he benefits from operating under someone else’s captaincy?
He always looks to me like he just wants to take charge. The demeanour of a natural leader, perhaps? He’ll again be Wallaby captain.
Would you say that on form Matt Giteau would be a dead cert? I guess our expectations of him are always high but he’ll be there all right. At 10 or 12?
With his move to inside centre for the injured Lealiifano and the tremendous form of Quade Cooper (pending the outcome of the police charge that will determine his future), Matt Giteau should be No. 12.
It sounds like he was going to be moved there anyway on the Spring Tour but the unfortunate injury to Berrick Barnes precluded that change.
Adam Ashley-Cooper is a certainty in the First XV, it’s only to be determined in which position. There is no other Australian player who is so consistent in his fullback play (with Peter Hynes coming a very close second this season and I think also a certainty in the 22).
Whether it’s under the high ball, in an attacking situation from broken play or utilising his much improved kicking skills, he’s the man.
I can’t say Stirling Mortlock is a certain selection, notwithstanding his ARU top-up after signing with the Melbourne Rebels. Morty’s been injured a fair bit of the time over the past year or so and seems brittle these days. He hasn’t performed up to his usual standards.
I can only choose four certainties from Queensland who’ll be in the Wallaby test 22. However, I can think of another seven who will be challenging for positions such is the good form shown by this crowd.
Hynes on the wing, Digby Ioane at 13, Cooper at 10 and of course Will Genia at halfback. It’s Genia and Cooper who have been receiving all the accolades.
I was watching some Magners League on Setanta Sport the other day and the commentators were banging on about Genia being the next George Gregan, such is the regard he’s now held in.
Some argue he’s the form Australian player of the Super 14 (actually Hodgson in my view) but he’s going to be the next big thing in international rugby.
His combination with Quade Cooper – he’s actually providing Cooper with time and space via crisp, accurate passes – and his darting runs (not to forget his leadership) put him in that class.
Cooper is finally realising his considerable talent and has been simply outstanding in recent matches. A dead cert for 10.
The powerful Ioane is, in my view, one of the worlds leading outside backs. He is so strong and evasive, he’s always beating the first defender and can run over the top of anyone. He’ll be in the First XV, probably at 13.
Top of the table NSW (albeit briefly according to Bruce) are doing all the right things. They’ve got a battle hardened pack and some experienced backs and it’s finally coming together.
Benn Robinson is Australia’s top loosehead and will be one of the first forwards selected. Along with Tatafu Polota-Nau, another certainty, they make up (with Al Baxter – not a certainty but maybe a ‘sure thing’ this year) our best front row.
Le Fuse has been playing top footy all season and it wouldn’t surprise me if recalled to duty.
At the back Cliffy Palu, when fit, has been showing some good form after a shaky start and his powerful runs assure him of selection. Probably just needs to tidy up clearances at the back of the scrum.
Dean Mumm is another who’ll be in the Wallaby 22. He’s really stepped up in his physicality about the field, his lineout prowess and now his leadership. I think at this rate he’ll be Sharpie’s locking partner.
Although Drew Mitchell can be inconsistent at times, this year he’s been rocking and rolling on the wing (his rightful position) and scored plenty of meat pies. He’ll also be in that squad although pushed by Lachie Turner.
Berrick Barnes. Mmmmm. If you asked me a couple of weeks ago whether he’d be a certainty for the Wallaby 22, I’d have said no. If you ask me now, I’d say….no again. Poor form – one game doesn’t make a season.
I mean, he’ll probably be there but so far doesn’t deserve it. Hopefully his form from the weekend will continue.
Luke Burgess is the second best halfback in Australia, which makes him a certainty for the test 22.
Robinson, Polota-Nau, Moore, Alexander, Sharpe, Mumm, Elsom, Pocock, Hodgson, Palu, Genia, Burgess, Cooper, Giteau, Ioane, Mitchell, Hynes, Ashley-Cooper, O’Connor.
Am I right? Or am I right?