Wallaby Lock of the Decade - Green and Gold Rugby
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Wallaby Lock of the Decade

Wallaby Lock of the Decade

We now take the step into the unknown, somewhat. The tight forwards.  Now for many of you this will be a scary place.  Going into the unknown often is.  For those backs out there we are going to be discussing some fairly foreign concepts from now one in. Things like “aggression”, “work rate”, “physicality” and “toughness”.  Just keep breathing.  We will start with the locks, who are those tall guys you often see jumping in the line outs and at kick offs.

Over the decade Australia has used twelve players in the starting team at lock. Interestingly less than who have played Blind Side Flanker or Inside Centre.  The locks of the decade are:

Nathan Sharpe (75), Dan Vickerman (36), Justin Harrison (31), David Giffin (28), James Horwill (24), Mark Chisholm (23), John Eales (17), Hugh McMeniman (6), Dean Mumm (2), Matt Cockbain (1), Owen Finegan (1), Al Campbell (1).

As per the wingers. We are not discriminating between left and right locks here. Nor tight and loose locks. I trust you will forgive us. Accordingly instead of just a top three, we have chosen the top six locks of the decade.  A top four probably could have done it, but we snuck in two more. Whether they deserve it, we’ll let you decide. You can also work out who the 5th and 6th lock are.  But in the end, G&GR came up with the below top 6 locks of the decade.

 

 

 

Nathan Sharpe

It may surprise some people to know that Sharpe has had the second most starts in the one position all decade, behind George Gregan who 81 times started at scrum half.  Sharpe’s 75 starts also include two as captain.

Sharpe seems an intriguing character. He is extremely highly rated by his peers whereas many Wallaby fans are frustrated by his work rate and impact on the field.  Whilst many fans have been calling for his removal from the Wallaby team for the last year or two, many of those same fans are now acknowledging what he brings to the team having seen the Wallabies compete without him.

So what does he bring to the team? Leadership is an obvious one. At a time when the Wallaby jersey seems to be tinged with more green than gold, Sharpe has been playing for the Wallabies since 2002.  He’s played with the likes of Matthew Burke, Dan Herbert, Justin Harrison, Toutai Kefu, Patricio Noriega and Bill Young. So he brings a great deal of knowledge to the party.

His lineout work was sorely missed as well. Whilst the Wallaby lineout failed to gel, Sharpe’s experience at running a lineout as well as his own jumping abilities have been very much missed.  His impact around the field would also have been handy.  Sure he ran with the ball a lot but he does invariably get beyond the advantage line and presents the ball for recycling.  A few of those charges close to the ruck against the likes of Ireland and Scotland could have been very important.

Where to now for Sharpie? It will be interesting to watch.  The attitude of both the Aussie selectors and Sharpe himself will be intriguing. The selectors have shown a tendency to go with youth, but only when the quality is there.  The question has to be asked, is it there at the moment though?


Dan Vickerman

Unlike Nathan Sharpe, I think everyone knew we’d miss Dan when he was no longer in the Australian team.  Vickerman made his test debut, one test after Sharpe, against the French waaaay back in 2002. Ever since he played colts for Queensland University, Vickerman was destined to play for Australia. Ok, sure he went back ‘home’ to South Africa to feature in some of their age teams, but he came back again, and found his way to Canberra.

His time spend at the Brumbies learning the lineout trade from both David Giffin and Justin Harrison would see Vickerman develop into one of the leading lineout forwards in the game. Of course he had the added advantage of being 204cm tall, and being able to speak Afrikaans for when we played the Boks. However we mustn’t discount his rugby smarts.  At the Brumbies, and then the Tahs, he dominated lineout play and became a master at reading the opposition throw.  The current day Wallaby lineout would love to have his intel.

But it wasn’t just his lineout play. Vickerman’s aggression at the breakdown is a massively missed aspect lacking in the current Australian team.  The impact he made at rucks and mauls was significant and just the type of hard-nosed style of play that would balance the current pack.

From 2002, it took Vickerman a couple of years to really secure his spot locking the Australian scrum. It wasn’t really until 2006 that he really got some continuity in his appearances for the Wallabies, starting in all the domestic tests.  However a shoulder reconstruction would prevent him from touring the UK that Spring and threaten his World Cup the following year. He did make it back however and featured in all tests, bar one against Fiji, including the quarter final in which he seemed to let the English pack niggle him out of the contest.

Injury would again rule him out of the 2008 season, and soon after he was off to Cambridge and, ultimately, Northampton.  Will we see him back in Wallaby colours? Let’s bloody well hope so!


Justin Harrison

Harrison really came to prominence when he was labelled a plank by British Lion Austin Healy after they met during a Lions v Brumbies encounter. Healy scored a try, and Harrison heckled him saying that he’d “only scored one try”. The Brumbies were winning at the time. Healy would go on to score the match winning try and give it right back to Harrison.

Justin would have his revenge.  When David Giffin was ruled out of the third and deciding Lions test, Harrison was called in.  In classic Hollywood mode, Harrison stole a late and crucial line out ball, out of the hands of Lions legend and captain Martin Johnson, to effectively save the game for Australia.

Some, me possibly, would suggest that Harrison possibly lived off this moment for quite some time. Regardless it was perfect timing for Googy. And I don’t mean the line-out steal. No, with Wallaby legend John Eales about to retire, the Wallaby selectors would be on the look out for a 2m lineout wiz. Step forward Mr Harrison.

And so he did, playing another six tests that season before playing every test in 2002.  He played a minor role for the Wallabies at the start of their 2003 World Cup campaign, but ended up starting in all the big matches.  His last year for the Wallabies was 2004 in which he would start every test. But that was it. He then headed north to play rugby in the UK, having played his last game for the Wallabies. Or has he? He’s back for the Brumbies next year, so who knows what will happen?


David Giffin

It must be hard to stand out in a pack of forwards including players like Eales, Foley, Kefu and Wilson.  Accordingly David Giffin was a much undervalued, if not underappreciated, Wallaby lock.  He made his debut under Greg Smith, almost by default as the last player standing.  The Wallabies on tour of the UK in 1996 suffered a glut of injuries before the last test. So Giffin was thrown in the deep end, and produced a masterful game belying his inexperience.

Soon enough though the likes of John Eales and Garrick Morgan were back in the picture and the young Tom Bowman had arrived and Giffin was back playing a minor role. By the World Cup of 1999 though he was back in the team and a vital member of it.

Accordingly, come the new decade, Giffin was a mainstay of the Wallaby pack.  Giffin was a hard grafter, rarely sighted with the ball in hand, unless he was plucking it from the skies in the line-out or from the kick off. Gif provided important size and physical presence to a pack that had a number of runners, particularly in the 2001 Lions series.

Despite a mixed 2002 season, Giffin fought his way back into the Wallaby starting team by the 2003 season providing much needed steal and experienced to the Wallaby pack.  In the first World Cup game of the tournament however, against Argentina, Giffin was dropped by team mates attempting to take a kick off and suffered a worrying shoulder injury. He would come back to play three more games in the tournament, two off the bench (including the final) but that would be it for Giff, from a Wallaby perspective.


James Horwill

Horwill burst onto the world rugby stage in 2008 with a series of high impact test matches for the Wallabies. Big Kev’s debut would actually take place a year earlier, against Fiji in Perth, and his omission from the World Cup squad later that year would be one of a number of talking points.

Horwill’s 2008 form would further question the non-selection. With Vickerman gone (injured and then overseas), the Wallabies needed a pack leader. An aggressor capable of enforcing his presence on the opposition. Someone with enough bulk to throw their weight around. In the 2m tall, 117kg James Horwill they found him.

Whilst Horwill didn’t have the lineout skills of Vickerman, he definitely had the size. Horwill was an aggressive presence around the field, whether it be hitting mauls, clearing rucks, running the ball or making tackles.  Even scoring the odd try (three for the season – more than John Eales in his entire Wallaby career!).

Horwill missed the Spring Tour because of ligament damage in his foot. Perhaps the delay start to the 2009 season, because of recuperation from surgery, impacted his form because he failed to live up to the same expectations as the previous year.  It wasn’t a Tom Bowman fall from grace, but it was significant.  In saying that, Horwill still managed to start in every test this year, the only Wallaby to do so.

The Wallaby selectors (and fans) will be hoping James can recapture his form of 2008 because his physicality will be an important element of the Wallaby pack as they enter the next decade.


John Eales

What do you say about John Eales that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?  It is an interesting perspective on the man in that we are trying to refine his career to just this decade.  But it was still pretty bloody amazing.

In this decade, in which he played ‘only’ 17 tests he managed to captain Australia to two Bledisloe Cup wins, two Tri-Nations Trophy wins, win a series against the British Lions, win a test through his own boot, take part in one of the most celebrated games in rugby history, and then leave the game with the team scoring a last minute win against the All Blacks in Sydney via a try by one of your best mates. Nice.

It is interesting to note that Eales played every game he was available in his last two years in Wallaby colours. Seventeen tests in a row.  And he came up against some pretty decent opposition locks too. Martin Johnson, Mark Andrews, Victor Matfield, Norm Maxwell, Chris Jack, Fabien Pelous, Scott Murray.

His was a great career, John Eales, that never dipped at any stage.  His retirement, like that kick in Wellington in 2000, was time to perfection.

*****

A nice way to finish. On a legend.  I would suggest that Eales’s selection is a given? Despite playing less than two years of the decade? Or am I way off? If not, who joins him in the locking spot? Googy for his lineout abilities? Does Giffin come in under the radar as he did most of his career? Or his Vickers the man. What about Sharpie? He has the numbers (of caps at least)? Will anyone go into bat for Big Kev? Make sure you vote below, and leave a comment here or at the Blog.

 

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  • chief

    It only lets me vote for one at a time.

    • Noddy

      thank you. Your details have been recorded and your complaint placed in a queue. Your issue will be addressed by the first available customer service agent.

      Come again.

  • chief

    Great service, such a quick reply! Hopefully I’m not on hold for all that long.

  • mark_s

    Ditto, I wanted to vote for Giffen and Eales but only got a vote in for giffen.

    Sharpe and Vickerman would be 3rd and 4th for me. Vickerman was injured too much to get ahead of sharpe in my view. A healthy Vickerman was match (or possibly better) Giffen, but Giffen only started getting injured late in his career.

    Harrison could easily have been up there had the ARU not shafted him at the end of 2004 but I couldn’t see him getting ahead of Eales/Giffen unless he was very dominant.

    • Noddy

      Please hold.

      ..lalalala dee dumm di didy..lalala..didy dee…

      Please hold.

      • Welcome to Telstra Bangalore. Please be voting now thanks.

        • chief

          Ironically I’m watching Slumdog Millionare.

          I voted Vickerman and Eales. Vickerman was the better option his lineout calls were better than Sharpe’s and I thought he wasn’t as lazy.

  • Gumby

    Eales and Vickerman for me with Giffen on the bench. Giffen was a great partner for Eales but I think Dan was the man and hopefully will be again.

    How we could use him in 2011.

    • Bobas

      Yep, we need him in oh-eleven.

      Tell Andy Friend to give him a call and we got a shot I reckon.

      Maybe eals could come back too.

      although, Harrison is back for the brum brums and might demand a selection…

  • Joe Blow

    Eales-Vickerman in the second row would be a match made in heaven.
    Hats off to Sharpe who has toiled hard and has improved as his career has gone on. He will play a big part in the Wallaby RWC 2011 campaign, particularly if Vicks doesn’t make it back in time.

    • El Dommo

      Here here Joe.

      Yeah Eales may have ‘only” played 17 tests, but fuck, we are still at the turn of the decade, trying to find the next eales. or for the generalists out there, the next world class lock.

      I thought one was found in Vickerman which is why iw ould say eales and Vickerman….Vickers a shave ahead of Giffen, just for his pure technical nouse willingness to do, what it seems people like Sharpe and Horwill dont like doing….TIGHT FUCKING WORK.

      Sharpe, ok he and Vicks were a good pairing because one did the Lock work while the other argued with george smith about who would play Inside or outside centre during touch that day at training…but paired with eales…Vicks i think would have been assisted in his Locking duties and become and even better player than he actually is, which arguably is listed with the likes of Matfield, O Connell, Pelous etc.

      as for Sharpe and his leadership qualities, frankly i’d rather be led by a sick pidgeon.

      googy, Horwill, Bowman, despite being capable players i dont think cut it. However i will maintain if Horwill realised he coud be the man for the next decade, i would be excited to see him play

  • Who Needs Melon

    I’ve very seldom been really impressed by Sharpe for the Wallabies but agree that he is rated by his peers – which has to count for something – and given the number of games he played in the decade, I had to give him a guernsey.

    I have soft spots for all of the remaining top 6 above although my opinion of Harrison has dropped recently and I agree he’s remembered mostly for that steal more than anything else. In the end the guy who made the biggest contribution despite playing fewer games was Eales.

  • Robson

    Yep Sharpie is great at lineout time and is obviously the go to man for leadership in some situations. But he didn’t really imprint himself on any of the tri nations games this season and for that his star dulls a bit for me.

    The partner for Eales in my book is Vickerman. I think he would have made a huge difference to the pack during the tri nations series this season and it was really our lack of grunt in the pack that shut us out of a few games that were otherwise quite close.

  • Patrick

    Sharpie has won me over lately, after being a major critic.

    Mainly for the impact of his absence.

    • Sideshow

      Yeah, in his absence, we’ve suddenly become a dominant pack. Yep, our lineout is currently woeful, but surely next on Dingo’s to do list, and will be fixed next season.

  • Pedro

    Yeah I had to give it to Sharpe and Vickerman, Eales is better but not enough tests in the decade.

    Vickerman seemed to be the reason our lineout was so strong this decade. Sharpe may have had something to do with it, although not as much, but we do miss him when he’s not there and he has been very durable.

    • As the only goal kicking lock on the list Eales is doing pretty well!

    • Pedro

      Well looks like he’ll win (again).

  • David Giffin is a cool man.is that right?

  • JJJ

    I gave it to Eales and Vickerman. Agree with everyone who hopes Vicks comes back for 2011, but I somehow think he won’t.

    As for Sharpe we really did miss him at lineout time, though we seemed to do better without him everywhere else. I can’t consider voting for him until I see our scrum maintain the kind of dominance it has enjoyed this season with him back in it.

    And, given the pasting we copped at the breakdown from both the ABs and SA, do we really want a lock back in who doesn’t appear to do his share there? Tough calls. If only our current lineout weren’t so dreadful.

    • El Dommo

      exactly breakdown work…the tough stuff…the bread and butter SAFA locks are born and raised to compete in…Sharpe can be on the bench..anythig would be better than Dean Buble…but vickers to come back and Pair with Kevvy…that would be a threatening lock pairing.

  • Cutter

    Vickerman was a huge disappointment in the 2007 RWC quarter final but I still picked him and Eales.

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The original prop in a prop's body, but thankfully I have the rugby mind of a prop as well.

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