With the Super 14 heading toward a grandstand finish, I thought I would look beyond to see what awaits the Wallabies in the first four matches of their winter campaign.
On the face of it there does not seem to be much that will trouble the Wallabies. They play the Baa-Baa’s for the first time on Australian soil, then the notoriously poor travelling Italians, and then the French who will pose the toughest test in the last of the Wallabies month long schedule.
Game 1 Baa-Baa’s – SFS, Sydney 6 June
Those who thought these games meant nothing to the players perhaps re-assessed that opinion after the last time the Wallabies and Barbarians met. The match was one that was as hard fought as any test match and was a credit to the both XV’s.
It is difficult to see the Baa-Baa’s circa 2009 being the same sort of opposition as last year due to the fact they play England at Twickers the Saturday before and then have to fly to Australia and play again within a week….I wonder if anyone will have a crack at Boonie’s record?
It will be interesting to see the approach Maestro Deans takes with naming his team. I’d expect it to be nothing more than a second string line-up but it could provide some interest with the back-up hooker, outside centre and fullback position in the first choice squad being well and truly up for grabs. Will he opt for this game to be a trial for the contenders?
The most important thing out of this game will be that Rocky Elsom gets through it unscathed!!
Game 2 Italy – Canberra Stadium, Canberra 13 June
Game 3 Italy – Docklands Stadium, Melbourne 20 June
The Italians have had an awful 12 months only winning one game, albeit in Argentina, against the Pumas. Although they may have pushed the Aussies in Padova, they lost winnable tests against a combined Pacific Islands team and the Pumas at home, and were well and truly shut-out in the Six Nations.
Italian rugby is a coaching graveyard but Nick Mallet has recently been re-appointed and given unprecedented powers in order to try (again) and restructure Italian rugby. I guess the hope is that this stability and mandate will allow him to make improvements but in reality, there is too much work to do.
These two game should be little more than nuisance value for the Wallabies but at least the powerful Azzuri scrum will give a decent indication of the scrummaging prowess of our Piggies
The challenge for the notoriously slow starting Wallabies will be to play at their level and not get pulled down the level of a far weaker opponent. All too often the Wallabies struggle with games like this and it would be nice to see them put the Italians well and truly to sword like the All Blacks seem to do against inferior teams.
Game 4 France – Stade de Australie, Sydney 27 June
It is being widely reported that the Frogs will send a full strength team for the first time after years of Southern Hemisphere neglect. That may not count for much as the French players that do make it down under will no doubt be looking forward to an end of season break after what is an incredibly long season.
After a disappointing Six Nations, the French will be looking to re-establish themselves on their Antipodean odyssey and they play the All Black’s in two tests before finishing their tour with a one-off in Sydney.
France’s Six Nations efforts were pretty patchy as they looked to play an expansive style of rugger, but more often than not retreated back to the comfort of Northern Hemisphere stodge.
Although they will undoubtedly be the sternest test the Wallabies face before the Tri-nations, after being softened up by the All Black’s in the previous two weeks, it would be hard to think they will seriously trouble our lads.
Hopefully Deans will know who his best XV is by this game and will play them against the Frogs so we will get a true indication of the improvements made over the past year. The Wallabies will no doubt be hoping for a decent test to blow away any cobwebs before they face the All Black’s at Eden Park in mid-July, and then take on the Lion-taming Saffer’s two weeks after that.