From the period 2000-2009, ten different men (perhaps nine men and a boy) have worn the Wallaby Number Fifteen jersey in a test match.
Chris Latham (57 starts at fullback); Adam Ashley-Cooper (17); Matt Burke (14); Matt Rogers (9); James O’Connor (7); Drew Mitchell (6); Julian Huxley (6); Joe Roff (4); Cameron Shepherd (2); Stirling Mortlock (1)
Now our task at G&GR was to come up with the three leading candidates for the Wallaby Team of the Decade. How do we do this? Well we did it as simply by looking at their performances in this position and how dominant it was. So now, our top three fullbacks of the decade:
Surprisingly, arguably Australia’s greatest ever fullback, played relatively little rugby in that position for the Wallabies in the noughties. Injury deprived him of a full 2000, with three games at the end of the season on the wing his only game time. 2001 started slowly too, picked on the bench behind Chris Latham in the first test against the Lions. A bit of Jason Robinson magic soon saw Latho replaced and Burke would see out the rest of the year and scoring a massive 157 points.
2001 would be the last time that Burke had the gold 15 jersey pretty much to himself however as not only was he sharing it with the likes of Chris Latham, Matty Rogers and Joe Roff, but his versatility had him spending time at wing and at outside centre, as well as on the bench. A subdued appearance off the bench in an away game against the Boks in 2004 would be his last Wallaby appearance, but the memories of his Lions series in particular would long remain.
Looking purely at the stats, then Chris Latham had a fairly impressive decade. Four tries in the first test of the 2000’s, against Argentina, set him on his way to 38 tries for the decade. More than any other Wallaby has scored in any decade. But it was far from easy for the NSW-born Queensland legend.
After a solid full season in the Wallaby jersey in 2000, Latho was dropped after a defensive error in the first Lions test of 2001. Such was his attacking value that he was recalled into the starting line-up, this time on the wing, before the season was out. Latham would score a Wallaby record five tries in a game against Namibia during the 2003 Rugby World Cup, but it was not enough to force him into the starting line-up come the business end of the tournament, with Matt Rogers preferred.
But Latham would soon turn all that around securing, not only a consistent spot in the number 15 jersey, but also the acclaim of the global rugby community as one of the premier players in the world.
Now remember, this is for his time in the Wallaby fullback jersey. This does not take into account his Brumby form, nor his Wallaby games on the wing. Just the four lone games he wore the golden 15 jersey. Just two games against Scotland, one against England and then another, his final, against the Pacific Islanders.
But what those four games showed was perhaps how wasted Roff had been on the wing all career. This is not to dispute his contribution from the wing, nor the abilities of other first choice fullbacks such as Burke and Latham. It is just that Roff managed to show in his four 2004 appearances sublime timing and skills that should have been seen more on the international stage.
So they are our choices. But who are yours? Does Roff deserve his spot for just four tests? Are we discounting too readily the form of the current man for the job, Adam Ashley-Cooper? What about the undoubted brilliance of Matt Rogers? Should we be granting special consideration to Cameron Shepherd due to injury? Make sure you let us know in the comments below, and on the forum, as well as on the poll. We will be announcing our G&GR Wallaby Team of the Decade in just a few weeks, and we need to hear your argument as to who should be in that custodian position.