Unsurprisingly in a decade in which the Wallabies most capped player played scrumhalf, there were only six men who played at the base of the scrum for the Wallabies from 2000-2009. These players were:
George Gregan (81 starts), Luke Burgess (18), Sam Cordingly (8), Will Genia (7), Matt Giteau (6), Chris Whitaker (3)
Picking a top three scrumhalves of the decade has proven quite difficult.
Obviously the options are limited, but with one player starting in basically two thirds of the tests, the rest shared out amongst the remaining four players, there is limited opportunities to weigh up the challengers. We went to and fro with the final selections a bit, and it is fair to say it was somewhat influenced by the recent tour, but the top three scrumhalves of the decade are:
Gregan was first choice half back for pretty much the first eight years of the decade. He was first choice captain for a little over half the decade. He formed a brilliant combination with his Brumbie team mate Steve Larkham. But still, I don’t expect all this vote to be as clear cut as it may seem it should be.
I don’t think we as supporters, at least this decade, ever saw the true value of Gregan to the Wallabies. What we saw was his on field performances. We saw his courageous defense (go back and watch his tackling of Lomu in the 2000 Tri Nations as an example). We saw the pressure he could put his opposition number under. On the face of it both his running game and delivery from the forwards seemed to slow somewhat as the years went on.
But what we didn’t see, and only occasionaly would read about, was his utmost professionalism in terms of how he would prepare for a test match. The precision practise and care of his body that rookies would watch in awe of. We didn’t necessarily see first hand the respect with which his team mates, and indeed the opposition, had for him. It is respect that seems to have gone missing in the Wallabies team for, gee I don’t know, how long ago to Gregan retire?
It was a real battle for these final two spots in this top three. I have no doubt whatsoever that there is a bit of a ‘recency factor’ in the selection of Genia here. Genia has been somewhat of a revelation since his debut earlier this season. He has provided the Wallabies a dynamite pass from the pack to the backs. He has a dangerous running game that is well managed without being overplayed, and as we have seen on the Spring tour, his kicking game can be inch perfect.
There will always be comparisons made between Genia and Gregan. They start from the physical resemblances I guess. Both being short of stature and dark of skin. Then there is the fact that both players got selected in the test team from relative obscurity. And both scrumhalves were picked as yet another attempt to fill the whole made by the retirement of a former Wallaby great.
Genia has made the position his own though, proving so valuable a player that he has played numerous 80 minute test matches, which is almost unheard of in the modern age. His maturity and composure seeem to be the traits that set him apart, taking into account his obvious abilities and skills. How he manages the newfound attention and expectations? Well that might be where more comparisons with Gregan arise as Gregan struggled to maintain his Wallaby spot for the years after his debut season in 1994. Can Genia set himself apart and stake a claim for the next decade?
Hmmm… Gits above Burgess? Gits above Cordingly? Gits above Whits? I reckon a definate yes for the last two, and a more than likely for the first. Knuckles Connolly copped some flack for playing Gits at 9, this despite the fact many ‘experts’ were calling for it to happen pre-Connlly’s time as coach. I for one really enjoyed the experiment.
Giteau was our most dangerous player at the time and just didn’t seem to be getting his hands on the ball enough at inside centre. So why not get him back to a position he played at school in which he could handle the ball more than any other player. He scored a great try against Wales in his first game there for that exact reason. Just because he was meant to be close to the ball he was close to the ball, took the quick tap, caught Wales (the ref and the tv cameraman) napping and scored the try.
His delivery was adequate and his kicking game better than most 9’s. If we had a suitable inside centre to take over from Giteau I am sure the experiment would have been extended. Sure enough the best performance by the Wallabies whilst Gits played scrumhalf was when we had the experienced, and vastly underrated, Scott Staniforth at 12 against the Scots at Murrayfield.
So yes, Burgess would have been very close. I think we can forget how much he added to the Wallaby attacking game last year. He still has a lot to offer in my eyes, although his passing is just not up to scratch. As for Whits? Unfortunately I never thought he really grabbed his opportunities, however few they were, for the Wallabies. Only three starts is hard, particularly when one is against Namibia, one is in the torrential rain in Wellington and the other against a very week Samoan team.
So, how did we go? Were we right to go with Will and Gits? And what about Gregan? Is he the definate for the Wallaby Team of the Decade that every suspects he is? Has Genia shown more already than Gregan through the noughties? Let us know in the below poll, in the comments section and over at the Blog!