From the period 2000-2009, eighteen different men have worn either the Wallaby Number Eleven or Fourteen jerseys in a test match. Interestingly eight of these were also on the fullback list (Julian Huxley and James O’Connor being the only two fullbacks NOT to start a test on the wing).
So, our noughty wingers were:
Lote Tuqiri (51 starts on the wing); Wendell Sailor (29); Joe Roff (28); Drew Mitchell (20); Mark Gerrard (17); Clyde Rathbone (16); Peter Hynes (15); Stirling Mortlock (14); Lachlan Turner (11); Ben Tune (6); Andrew Walker (5); Chris Latham (5); Digby Ione (4); Adam Ashley-Cooper (4); Matt Burke (3); Matt Rogers (3); Cameron Shepherd (3); Scott Staniforth (2).
Whereas previously we normally pick a top three for each position, we are not differentiating between right or left wing, so we are going to pick the top six wingers of the decade. Again this is based on their performance at test level, this decade, in the wing position.
And our top wingers (in no particular order, well in the particular order of the alphabet in fact):
Hynes has only featured for the Wallabies in the last two years of the decade, but already has more starts on the wing than the likes of Paul Carozza, Paddy Batch, Rob Egerton, Laurie Monaghan or Jeff McLean. It’s a sign of the age of professionalism as much as anything, but also a sign of the type of player that Queensland flyer is.
Hynes is very much a Robbie Deans style player. Whilst not quite as speedy as his schoolboy sprinter days, he has the balance and composure required to be a finisher at the highest level. But it is his work off the ball, as much as with it, that is most impressive. Forever on the go, Hynes loves to get his hands dirty in the ruck and has no fear in charging into an oncoming pack. Just the four tries scored so far, but how much of that can be put down to a struggling inside backs is a reasonable question.
The Wallaby Rookie of the Year in 2008, it is only fair to consider him one of the premier Wallaby wingers of the decade.
It is easy to forget that Mortlock first burst onto the international rugby scene as a winger. It’s not surprising when you consider that team he played in had the likes of Roff, Larkham, Gregan, Wilson and Eales in its line-up. Even less surprising when you realise that Daniel Herbert had the coveted 13 jersey to himself. But what a debut by Mortlock!
After not getting much of a shot in his first test, against the Pumas in Brisbane, Mortlock rectified things in the 2nd test with a try, a conversion and 5 penalties for 22 personal points. This would begin a run of point scoring which included 29 points against the Boks in Melbourne, 20 v the All Blacks in Sydney, 21 v the Boks in Sydney, 16 v the All Blacks in Wellington and 14 (including the trophy winning kick) against the Boks in Durban. This points spree would power Mortlock to reach the 100 point mark quicker than any Wallaby ever before.
Roff started the decade with 21 consecutive tests for the Wallabies on the wing. This included both the incredible Tri-Nations of 2000 as well as memorable British Lions tour of 2001. It was the Lions tour that would pretty much end up capping a wonderful career for Roff. Whilst he would go on to play another just another seven more games on the wing after that 2001 season, playing off the bench in the Rugby World Cup finals of 2003 behind league recruits Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri, before finishing his career at fullback in 2004.
But what a performance in the Lions series. His two tries in the second test in Melbourne not only won the match but pretty much put rugby on the map in Australia. The series win against the Lions provided rugby a tremendous profile boost in non-traditional areas, and Roff’s performances were at the heart of it. A canny player, he knew the way to the try line, yet relied on his nous as much as his speed and size to get across the line.
Wendell arrived in rugby as perhaps the biggest signing it had ever made. Having just finished the Rugby League World Cup as its best player Sailor, ever the shrinking violet, saw rugby as a chance to take his game (and face) to the global market. Some will debate whether Dell was worth the money. Putting aside the pure marketing aspect of him (which is almost undeniable), Dell was a key player this decade.
Now it took Sailor a fair while to adjust to the finer points of rugby. He was never a naturally instinctive player and the increased analysis in rugby battled his natural desire to just bash and barge. He was probably thrown into the Wallaby team, prematurely, in 2002. Scott Staniforth for one being unlucky to be overlooked. But he worked hard, as he always has, and scored some ripper tries in 2003 against the likes of Wales, England and New Zealand.
His game against the All Blacks that same year, in the RWC semi-final in Sydney was perhaps his best ever in the code. His intensity was high and his work rate and ball retention fitted perfectly with the Eddie Jones chosen game plan. Unfortunately, a week later the same intensity wasn’t there and the World Cup was lost.
Injury would curtail is 2004, memorable giving Clyde Rathbone an unbelievable opportunity against England in Brisbane. 2005 however was building as an impressive year, with a move from the Reds to the Waratahs providing more opportunities. However Dell would end his career with rugby, the same way he came in, on the front pages. How he will be remembered long term will unfortunately be more for his off-field exploits than his on-field.
Coming across the rugby a year after Sailor (and Matt Rogers) Tuqiri would find his feet seemingly a great deal quicker. Perhaps he was eased into it better, but come the business end of a big season, the 2003 RWC, Tuqiri had forced his way into the starting side and sent Australia into hysterics with a brilliant try in the final.
Ten tries the following year would set a Wallaby Record for the most tries in a single season. Harking back to the RWC final of the previous year, Tuqiri would twice score tries in four consecutive tests, an achievement only the great David Campese had previously managed.
His try scoring percentage would dry up however and the questions would begin to be raised as to his worth. Perhaps it was a clash between playing styles at provincial and international level? It seemed the Waratahs wanted his power game whereas the Wallabies wanted a finisher. In the end Lote’s career, like Sailors, would end in controversy, which is a shame for a man who currently sits in equal 3rd spot on the Wallabies all time try scorers list.
Yet another league convert on the list of the best of the decade. Is it a sign of their quality or the ARU’s pre-occupation with them? Either way it’s hard to deny the sublime that was Andrew Walker. In yet another career that was cut short dramatically and, from a rugby perspective, unfortunately, Walker had it all. A Wallaby career of a little over 12 months was not enough to satisfy the appetites of his fans.
He debuted, off the bench, in “The Match of the Century” and would play his last test, also off the bench, in John Eales’s last game “the one with Kef’s try”. Two more dramatic games you would struggle to find, and thus a fitting bookend to Walks’ career. In between he played all three tests against the British Lions combining brilliantly with fellow Brumby Joe Roff to send Dan Herbert away on a crucial try in the third test. Walker scored one himself, an unbelievable effort, in the first test that lives long in the memory.
Still running around in Brisbane Club Rugby, Walker just loves playing rugby which always seemed to come across in his play. It is just a shame other external pressures deprived us all from seeing more of him at the highest level.
And there we are. How’d we do? This one will cause some discussion I am sure. How could we leave out Ben Tune? Did we even consider Mark Gerrard and Clyde Rathbone? Do we not remember Drew Mitchell’s try scoring feats at the 2007 RWC? So let us know your thoughts, again via the comments or the forum. And don’t forget to vote for your preference, in fact both of them, as we count down to our G&GR Wallaby Team of the Decade.