2010 Wallabies: The Challengers (Forwards)

2010 Wallabies: The Challengers (Forwards)

2010 Wallabies: The Challengers (Forwards)
Ben Hand - a contender in my book

Ben Hand is a contender in my book

Last week I picked 19 players who, in my view, were certainties for selection in this year’s Wallaby test 22.

We’re now back to 18 after Cliffy Palu seriously injured his knee on the weekend and looks out for the count this year.

That leaves vacancies for only four more players. However, there’ll obviously be others who’ll appear as there are around 15 tests all up in 2010 including the extra All Black match in Hong Kong.

This week I’ll select the players who I think will be challenging those ‘dead certs’ and who should be in serious contention for a test jumper.

Again, there’s ‘too much information’ so I’ll split it in two for an interminably long series (sorry) of the World According to Garp Lance…..

Before you get excited, let’s put some of this into perspective. Bright young things that have just appeared on the scene are highly unlikely to be included in this category unless they’re positively outstanding.

I might do a follow-up post later on (“not another f*ckin’ one – you’re really milking this?”) about some of the young blokes on the horizon who I think will feature down the track. Gee, that Alcock kid was great the other day for the Tahs, wasn’t he?

Secondly, don’t include Dan Vickerman in any of your calculations because he’s not coming back to play Super 14 nor Wallabies rugby ever again. Not ever, never. Get over it and move on.

At hooker, there are a couple of young fellas around who one day may challenge the established test order. Damien Fitzpatrick from the Waratahs is one of those but certainly not at this stage – he hasn’t had the game time to establish his credentials yet.

So far the guy who has really impressed is Saia Faingaa from the Reds. Last year there were doubts about his capacity to step up to Super 14 level but given the extra responsibility due to Sean Hardman’s early season injury, he’s done that in spades.

The wobbly lineout throwing has been replaced with certainty and his scrummaging has improved out of sight. He always had the mobility around the field and his initial Australian U20 potential is being fulfilled. I think they’ll want to blood a third option for next year’s RWC.

A few years ago we were in desperate straits for props; hence Al Baxter and Matt Dunning’s continued selection. Those days are behind us with Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson on deck and a core group snapping at their heels.

Tim Fairbrother isn't a contender (yet)

Tim Fairbrother isn't just a journeyman

You know who I’ve been impressed with lately? ‘Aussie’ Tim Fairbrother from the Force. I thought he was a journeyman but he’s shown plenty of technical ability and ticker under difficult circumstances.  It’s too early to call him a challenger but I look forward to his remaining Super 14 games.

Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu and Salesi Ma’afu were the backup late last year and there’s no reason to suggest that this situation has changed, except maybe for Cowan.

Ma’afu is still on a development curve but has looked OK to date (his scrummaging was a little wobbly early in the season) and Kepu is handy in that he can play both sides. It’s a pity Kepu isn’t starting because he looks a likely lump with improvement potential.

Pek Cowan is back in his rightful loosehead position with the hooker experiment now terminated. He’s had a couple of good games recently but he hasn’t been in a position to challenge yet. Likewise Tucky Dunning has been injured and has only just returned.

There are a couple of blokes knocking on the door to the backup unit and that’s Laurie Weeks and Ben Daley from the Reds.

The Sharks put their efforts into perspective the other day when they gave them a lesson in mauling and forward control. They’ve got a lot to learn yet but I’m positive Daley is Wallaby material in the not too distant future.

His scrummaging is solid and his work rate and mobility around the park are excellent. To a lesser extent Weeks could be too but I think he probably needs more time. Problem is that he’s put himself under some selection pressure next year with his Rebels’ signing, as they’ll likely end up cellar-dwellers in their first season, as you do.

Do you know who Kane Douglas from the Tahs reminds me of? No, we’ve moved on from bloody Dan Vickerman! A young (this is a bit left field) former All Black Gary Whetton – Robson will know this.

Whetton was first selected for the ABs against the Springboks in 1981. He was raw but aggressive, a good lineout forward and very mobile around the park for a big man. That’s who Douglas looks like to me and he’ll be a serious challenger for Wallaby honours this year.

Ben Hand has been playing some top stuff for the Brumbies as well. I don’t think he’s been a contender before but this year he’s outshone Chizz and Googy Harrison and is their top lock.

He’s busy all around the field and organises their lineout. He may not be the biggest bloke going around (1.96m, 114kg) but is one of the few specialists left. I think he’d be a better option at lock than say, Dave Dennis.

Speaking of Dave, I like the guy. An old fashioned style of player but probably more suited to blindside flanker than second row, he was picked on the Spring Tour last year because (to some extent) he was the last man standing.

I think this year he’s performed creditably as a hard driving, no-nonsense style of player. He’ll be getting more opportunities to shine now that Palu is out.

Van Humphries of ‘let’s roll the thingeyme’ fame is having a renaissance for such an old bloke and maybe has come into contention. I think it unlikely they’d go with a 34 year old debutant but he’s playing the best rugby of his career, having rounded out his game from just being predominantly a lineout forward.

Eddie Jones used to call it ‘total rugby’. That’s where players are interchangeable and can play in different positions (in my day you were called a ‘utility’). Mind you, Eddie was picking Leroy Houston for higher honours the other day – I don’t bloody think so…..

In a season where Richie McCaw is playing at No. 6, Phil Waugh at No. 8 (sometimes), Mitch Chapman at lock and Big Kev Horwill at blindside flanker there might be something in that?

There’s a plethora of loosies challenging for a couple of spots. Ben Mowen was talked up by the Sydney press last year but hasn’t quite fulfilled their expectations.

Stephen Hoiles - a challenger again

Stephen Hoiles - getting back to his best

Stephen Hoiles continues to impress with his skill level and leadership but there’s always question marks about his size and the style of game he plays. He suits those expansive, loose games as he’s a great support player and link between forwards and backs.

You know they’re champions when you can refer to them by only their Christian name. Richie….George….and Phil. The old ‘Waugh horse’ showed last weekend that he’s still got the skill and intent, but it’s only on view together occasionally these days.

He had a pearler of a game against the Crusaders and if he was doing that every week he’d be a challenger. But he isn’t, so he’s not. However, keep those performances up and that would change, unless the rumours about his demise were correct.

I reckon Scott Higginbotham is the major challenger for a loose forward position so far. He’s got power, size, athleticism and ability and has improved out of sight. There were defensive lapses last year but they’ve been eliminated.

He can play No. 6 or No. 8. A Pocock, Higginbotham and Elsom trio is becoming irresistible, with of course Matt Hodgson also in the mix (naturally).

Richard Brown is back from a long injury lay-off and has yet to mount a serious challenge. He started with a bang last year but didn’t quite pull it off. Some deficiencies were exposed (under the high ball and discipline) but he’s a single-minded sort of guy who’ll bounce back. Like Hoiles, there are question marks about size and his best position.

Rocky Elsom should be No. 8. That’s based on the premise of his Leinster form last year, his superior ball playing skills and power running off the back of the scrum.

The Challengers (Forwards):

Saia Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Salesi Ma’afu, Ben Daley, Kane Douglas, Ben Hand, Van Humphries, Dave Dennis, Stephen Hoiles and Scott Higginbotham.

Not yet a Challenger but I’m expecting them to be:

Pek Cowan, Phil Waugh and Richard Brown.

Back’s next week. What do you reckon?

  • Noddy

    great stuff. Yeah Tim Fairbrother has really surprised me. He’s a bit old school, a bit of a plodder, but reasonably effective.

    Too early for Rob Simmons? He’s surprised me. I thought he was a right puff (if I can go all Guy Ritchie on ya’) but he’s toughened up his act.

    And Tom Hockings? I reckon he’ll be there or there abouts too.

    • Lance Free

      I think a little early for those two just yet Nodds. Simmons in particular is looking stronger every week. Hockings probably needs more consistency.

      • Noddy

        just saw some stats for the Lions game and big Rob Simmons made 24 tackles this game. That’s personal tackles (he made another 10 in asisting the primary tackler).

        Both numbers (the 24 for tackles and 10 for tackle assists) are the largest of a Red player this season. I thought big Rob was busy this game, and this proves it. He’s really impressed me this year. I had previously thought it was a bit soft.

        Looking at all the stats, Matty Hodgson made 24 & 9 v the Tahs.

        But Robbie’s total of 34 for the game is a season high for all Aussie teams.

        There were some big tackles in there too!

  • #1 Tah

    Dave Dennis FTW!

  • Seb V

    I really wish u did the backs first! now i have to wait another whole week!!!! great work tho with the forwards. Totally agree. Higginbotham, Hodgson with certanties pocock, elsom should def be in the 22 (now that palu is gone).

  • DPK

    Justice for Van the Man. Send him out with a Test under his belt, even if it is against Fiji.

    • Who Needs Melon

      Too right! He deserves a Wallaby jumper surely.

      Plus he’d give cracker half time speeches I think.

  • Rocky Elboa

    Great Stuff Lance,

    Would be interesting to see a final squad of 30 players at the end. Personally I think Hoiles should be in the squad, his skill of the bench would be really useful after the loss of George. Don’t think he will make the 22 but he should be given the chance to challenge

    Deans will play around a lot with the barbarians games and the northern hemisphere tests so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the young guys like Alcock get a shot, he also had the luxury of being a good ball runner which is becoming more important with the new interpretation and the loss of Palu

    Right now I would have Fat Cat, TPN, Alexander, Sharp, Douglas, Mumm, Pocock, Elsom RES; Kepu (best at both positions and size will help with the loss of Palu) Moore(bench as we need TPN on the field with the loss of Palu) Higgs and Hodgson

  • Rocky Elboa

    great Stuff Lance,

    Would be interesting to see a final squad of 30 players at the end. Personally I think Hoiles should be in the squad, his skill of the bench would be really useful after the loss of George. Don’t think he will make the 22 but he should be given the chance to challenge

    Deans will play around a lot with the barbarians games and the northern hemisphere tests so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the young guys like Alcock get a shot, he also has the luxury of being a good ball runner which is becoming more important with the new interpretation and the loss of Palu

    Right now I would have Fat Cat, TPN, Alexander, Sharp, Douglas, Mumm, Pocock, Elsom RES; Kepu (best versatile prop and size will help with the loss of Palu) Moore (bench as we need TPN on the field with the loss of Palu) Higgs and Hodgson

  • Who Needs Melon

    I thought this was supposed to be the controversial half (now quarter) of this series. But I can’t find much to disagree with in this.

    Keep em coming! Drag it out as much as you like – I love reading this stuff.

  • reds fan

    One thing I would pull you up on is your decscription of the Reds props. I think you have it around the wrong way. Daley’s scrum work needs alot of work. He has been found out by a few opposition tightheads this year, and his discipline is appalling at times. He’s all enthusiasm and not much thinking. Weeks on the other hand has been solid on his side of the scrum and while not as dynamic as Daley or Alexander for that matter, he has been good around the paddock and does the tough stuff in close. With decent tightheads always being hard to find, i think he is one player who would benefit from time in the Wallaby squad.

    • Robson

      Yeah, I agree, Laurie Weeks’ scrummaging to me is right up there with the best and he doesn’t shirk his lot when the going gets tough. I also agree that Daley has got a lot of work to do yet and when a Saffa ref has to tell you that you’re a loosehead not a tighthead, there would seem to be a bit of an identity crisis going on. Just joking on that one because I have a bit of a sense of what Daley was trying to do, but he wasn’t being very subtle about it.

      • reds fan

        HAHA that was very funny from the ref! “subtle” is exactly what Daley isn’t. And when you are doing the right things, that’s great, but when you are doing the wrong thing it’s sticks out like the proverbial dog’s… he gave away a pen for trying to be a tighthead, backed it up with a pen for taking out the legs/lifter in a lineout, and then threw in a couple of the most blatant cases of enter a ruck from the side. The annoying thing is that in between times he tackles and runs with great passion and has good ball skills too. Hopefully he learns to channel that “energy” for good and not evil.

      • Lance Free

        Gary Whetton?

        • Robson

          Gary learned the underhand skills of pissing people off so that they would belt him and milk a penalty (usually very handy to the posts where Foxy never ever missed them) very early in life and no he wasn’t all that subtle about it either.

    • Lance Free

      I agree that Weekes has been playing strongly, but Daley is full of potential and has that X factor, albeit still a lot to learn. Good to see the Reds finally getting a bit of forward grunt back into their game.

      • reds fan

        its a pity that next year we wont have Quade to put that grunt to good use. That shoudl be the next article… who will be the Reds 10 next year? Ben Lucas?

        • Robson

          Where’s Quade going to? He’s too young to start playing in Japan. Or do you mean a holiday in……..??

        • reds fan

          the boys on the Rugby Club were speaking of Quade’s move to the Force as a doen deal. They have a big third party deal and the Reds cant find one to match. And his two mates O’Connor and Pocock are in his ear constantly. Marto in particular looked resigned to the fact that the Reds would lose him.

        • Robson

          Yeah, I suppose it makes sense with he and J’Oc being such great buddies, but I ddn’t realise that Pocock was in that mix too. There’s not much doubt that Quade has manufactured a lot of the tries scored by the Reds this year. It would be a shame for the Reds to lose him because they are such a young team, they can only get better.

  • Just a few points from me. I like big, tough, talented forwards, so Higgenbotham is a must. Hodgson, Brown are willing but too small. Kepu is huge and an outstanding athlete; he must get more game time. If we can get him right, he can be a World XV choice. Douglas, Daley, Weeks, Fitzpatrick, Faingaa (hooker)all look great, but need more time. I’ve said it before, but what about Rocky beside the rejuvinated Sharpe at lock? (Rocky may never speak to me again.) Chris Alcock looks a real talent. We need to see more of him!

    • bobas

      I like how your quotes in today’s article on foxsports are about the sense in moving Rocky to 8 say nothing about playing him in lock.

      Moving rocky to lock is like moving TPN to eight, sure he might play well there and theres nothing to suggest he wouldn’t handle it, but it would only ever happen if you had two rockys or to TPNs.

      It would be as fanciful as that TEAM LOMU in Codemaster’s Jonah Lomu Rugby, where the whole 15 positions in the team were taken up by individual Lomus. (for some reason their scrum and kicking, both place and general play was still excellent)

      Mumm and Sharpe for the locks, Higgin in 6 Pocock in 7 and Rocky in 8.

      4 lineout options for TPN there.

      Hodgeson on the bench to come on with a burst of Edmunds energy.

    • Lance Free

      Rocky at lock? I know you’ve been banging on about that before Bob – it just ain’t going to happen no matter how much you wish for it…..

  • louie

    Huia Edmonds

    • bobas

      He was in first reciever at the begining of the play he finished with the chip kick!

      Deans (and the female population of the world) has got to be noticing his sweet talents.

      • Noddy

        is that what we’re looking for in props these days? Couldn’t we just pick James O’Connor there then?

        • Bobas

          Why would we pick JOC if we already have Huia?

          Plus he’s a hooker not a prop.

      • Disco

        Huia Edmonds is lucky that chip kick came off as it was easier to pass inside to an unmarked Rocky.

        But I would have no problems with Edmonds playing for the Wallabies if TPN & Moore are injured.

    • royboi

      i think the list is pretty good except i think Huia Edmonds should get a go. hes probably not the first choice hooker but he would definitely put a huge impact coming off the bench. he is the best running hooker we have.

      • Ozrugbynut

        I think all this ‘Edmania’ is getting a little over the top. Sure he’s done some great things this year in general play, but I don’t think he’d be test quality in the set pieces. Maybe give him a run off the bench against the Irish to see how he goes, or maybe he’s one for the NH tour. Definitely not first choice 2.

        • reds fan

          surely anyone that requires ‘hair in a can’ (thanks Wally!) is probably a bit past being selected for one of the developmental spots on the NH tour.

  • Disco

    I hope Tom Hockings is there when the 1st squad is announced. John Mitchell shafted him by playing Wykes all the time but before injury Hocking was out playing Sharpe back in 2008.

    Now Wykes has been injured & Hockings has had some serious game time he is getting back to his 2008 form.

  • mudskipper

    Ben Hand is the quiet achiever…

    Brumbies set piece has been outstanding this year…

    Alexander, Moore, Maafi, Hand, Chiz, Rocky, Hoiles, Chapman… All could be good Wallabies..
    Ohh and super sub Edmonds

  • royboi

    how about ben mowen? he has a strong running game, good jumper as well and hes been pretty consistent in the tahs. while palu is out, mowen at 6, pocock at 7 and rocky 8.

  • Homer J

    Chiz is no good at test level, and rarely good at S14. Mowen too often takes the wrong option.

    I’d say it will be horses for courses. Hodgo against the AB’s for his enormous work rate and Higgers against the Boks to match up with Juan Smith.

    Mumm will start with Sharpey with possibly Douglas off the bench to build him into it.

    I really want to see if either Faainga boy makes the squad. Unfortunately for Anthony he is up against Barnes, Gits, Cooper and Conner. Saia has to beat Fitzpatrick to the third spot. Edmunds is a no chance.
    However the two young Force hookers, Whitaker and Charles did really well against Otago. WIll be interesting to see how they grow. No chance for the squad though.

  • TB

    1. Ben Robinson
    2. TPN
    3. Ben Alexander
    4. Nathan Sharpe
    5. Mark Chisolm (only because of Horwill’s injury)
    6. Scott Higginbotham
    7. BAM BAM
    8. Rocky Elsom
    9. Will “Sanchez” Genia
    10. Matt Giteau
    11. Drew Mitchell
    12. Quade Cooper (Him and Gits will probaly alternate on the field like on spring tour)
    13. Digby Ioane (Mortlock’s had it and Ioane’s been killing it at the Reds)
    14. Peter Hynes
    15. Adam-Ashley Cooper
    16. Al Baxter (Best season he’s had or atleast I’ve seen)
    17. Stephen Moore
    18. Ben Hand
    19. Matt Hodgson
    20. Luke Burgess
    21. Berrick Barnes
    22. James O’Connor

  • Dingo

    1. Benn Robbo
    2. Taffy
    3. Benny A
    4. Mumm
    5. Sharpie
    6. Higginbotham
    7. Bam Bam
    8. Rocky
    9. Sanchez Genia
    10. Cooper
    11. Mitchell
    12. Gits
    13. AAC
    14. Digby
    15. Hynes

    16. Moore
    17. Ma’afu
    18. Kane Douglas / Rob Simmons
    19. Matty Hodgson
    20. Burgo (rather not, but it’s Genia first, daylight second)
    21. Barnes
    22. Jimmy O’Connor

    Rest of Squad
    23. S Faingaa
    24. Weekes / Kepu
    25. Kane Douglas / Rob Simmons
    26. Hoiles
    27. McKibben / Lucas / Kingi
    28. A Faingaa
    29. Sterlo
    30. R Davies / Pat McCabe

    Notable Absentees:
    – Cross, Mowen, Chisholm, Waugh, Baxter, Dennis, Hand, Sheppard

    Squad Bolters
    – R Davies (got speed and lots of it)
    – The Faingaa twins both have have outstanding seasons
    – Kane Douglas /Rob Simmmons: Time to blood a new second row with the imminent departure of Sharpie. Both are green, but get them in the training squads.

    • Bob Smith

      While we’re at it this is mine.
      1 Benn Rob
      2 Tatafu Polalota-Nau
      3 Ben Alex
      4 James Hornwill
      5 Kane Douglas
      6 Rocky
      7 Pocock
      8 Cliffy Palu
      9 Genia
      10 Quade
      11 Drew Mitchell
      12 JOC
      13 Ioane
      14 Rod Davies
      15 Hynes

      16 AAC
      17 Moore
      18 Turner
      19 Dean Mumm
      20 Rob Horne
      21 Dave Dennis
      22 Burgo

      But injuries, Reacent form, and slumps in form have carved a different team. This is it.
      1 Ben Daley
      2 Tatafu Polalota-Nau
      3 Fairbrother
      4 Dean Mum
      5 Kane Douglas
      6 Rocky
      7 Pocock
      8 Cliffy
      9 Genia
      10 Quade
      11 Drew Mitchell
      12 JOC
      13 Digby Ioane
      14 Rod Davies
      15 Beale

      16 AAC
      17 Moore
      18 Turner
      19 Sharpie
      20 Rob Horne
      21 Dave Dennis
      22 Burgo

      23 A Faingaa
      24 S Faingaa
      25 Damian Fitzpatrick
      26 Mark Bartholomeuze
      27 Halangahu
      28 Kane Douglas
      29 Hynes
      30 Micheal Hooper
      31 Gits
      32 Patty McCabe
      I’m thinking that Dingo Deans will pick something like this. Waugh,Baxter, Houston, and Will Chambers only just missed out.

  • Ian Cognito

    Any opinions on the speculation about Daniel Heenan returning to Australia? Possible RWC 2011 squad candidate?

  • TB

    I disagree with you Bob with a few of your choices
    Palu and Horwill injured to begin with.
    You’ve gone for the 4 backs 3 forwards on the bench which imo is a bad choice as forwards are less diverse in positions they can play compared to backs.
    Kane Douglas no experience internationally so not really an option yet.
    O’Connor over Gits WTF!!! never.
    AAC is the better fullback which means you’d puch Hynes to the wing. Plus Davies isn’t good enough yet imo.
    and in your form squad where are the Bens??? Alexander is the top try scorer for the Brumbies how is that not good form?
    Palu hasn’t even played so obviously u haven’t seen the Tahs played for a while. Dave Dennis is benching for the Tahs so a wallaby bench spot is just stupid


Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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