Bugger me if there isn’t a bunch of pretty impressive back row forwards among the Super 14 teams.
The injection of the ELVs into the Super 14 has only seemed to magnify what was already a crucial role, and if you take a look around the comp – especially in Australia and South Africa I would argue – all of a sudden there seem to be bucket loads of highly skilled, quality players.
Of course the Kiwis have McCheat, who even though I think is hyped, is undoubtedly pretty frikken good. I was also bloody impressed with Rutchie’s replacement Whitelock on the weekend. For pure pesky scavenging I thought he even shaded Smith at times against the Brumbies.
I’m less impressed however with the So’oailo’s of the shaky isles, who don’t seem to know whether they’re playing 6, 7, 8 or 10. As for Braid, he seems to have retired at the Reds.
The jaapies are now swimming big mobile guys who suit their styles with the likes of Smith, Spies, Burger, Watson, Van Niekerk and the other Stormers flanker who had a belting game against the Reds last weekend.
As for us, I believe this year could be a very interesting one. Over the last couple of seasons, the Wallabies back row was pretty set at Smith/Waugh, Palu and Rocky. But this year things have shaken up a bit.
At 8, Richard Brown put his hand up on the Euro tour and seems to be backing it up for the Force again. Leroy at the Reds has shed a few kegs and looking all the better for it. It’ll be interesting to see what Hoiles’ captaincy does for his chances. A fit and in form Palu has to be in the box seat still, but how long will that last?
At 6, Rocky’s sabbatical has left an open door this season, but who’ll get the opportunity to fill the shoes? Three of the past contenders – Mumm, Chisholm and McMeniman are all doing time at lock, leaving relative unknowns like Higginbotham, Mowen and Kimlin have a crack. Can any of them nail it?
And then the epic battle at 7. The theory doing the rounds, backed up by Euro tour selections is that Captain Claret – Phil Waugh – has finally succumbed to the footballing genius of George Smith. The noises he’s making in the media; “love me or I’ll leave you” sound like death nells to me.
Which leaves the door open for the young pretender to the throne – David Pocock to have a shot at Smith. From what I can see the Force’s open side continues to come on in leaps and bounds, but will he come off second best again this year to the older wise dogs still in the yard?
If for nothing else, this Saturday’s clash between the Brumbies and the Force in Canberra will be fascinating indeed for that battle alone.