'New-look' Wallabies there for the taking?
ESPN Australia's Russell Barwick
June 4, 2012
Has Wallabies coach Robbie Deans got one eye on the clash with Wales at the weekend? © Getty Images
Australia's rugby stocks are at an all time high or an all time low depending on what side of the fence you sit on.
The decision not to play a number of key Wallabies in the opening match of the June Test series against Scotland on Tuesday night in Newcastle sends a message from coach Robbie Deans that things are so good in Australian rugby we don't need the likes of Quade Cooper.
The quote from Deans was they weren't satisfied that Cooper was ready for Test match rugby quite yet but he may as well have said that, look it's Scotland and the Wales game at the weekend is more important, we play that in Brisbane so Quade, head back home to Queensland and we will see if you are ready by Saturday!
So this current line-up gets to be called the 'new-look Wallabies' and that's not because there's half a dozen players who are Kiwis, Fijians, Samoans and Tongans.
I love that phrase 'new-look'. It can mean a number of things. 'New-look' because we were terrible at the Rugby World Cup and a few old blokes have been punted. 'New-look' because Super Rugby means half the regular guys aren't available so we have to pick players who normally wouldn't get a start. 'New-look' because the coach signed a new two-year deal at the end of last year so has three or four months to test run a few players to see if they have what it takes. And 'New-look' because we are playing Scotland so can pick a few players and save the big guns for Wales on the weekend.
But enough of my ranting and raving, the question is, are the 'new-look' Wallabies going to be the same Wallabies that takes on the likes of New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup later this year?
The answer of course is no. But that's not a bad thing because the old Wallabies haven't won the Bledisloe for sometime - even if we did beat the All Blacks last year, once.
The 'new-look' front row, is by far and away Australia's biggest problem and we haven't found a way to fix it. James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Salesi Mafu were terrorised in the World Cup last year and were stuck in reverse more often than not. Unfortunately you can just buy or import a front row forward. We did actually import some Argentinean's a few years back and that worked a treat but they got old and retired.
That brings us onto the 'new-look' second row. Its comprises a guy - Nathan Sharpe - who's played more than 100 Tests for Australia and was expected to retire at the end of the World Cup and has now in fact said he will retire at the end of the Super Rugby season. But if Deans wants him or needs him then he will reconsider his plans - again. The other second rower is new guy - Sitaleki Timani. Born in Tonga, he plays for the Waratah's who have lost their last six games in-a-row. Do I need to say more? The bench player is the in-form Rob Simmons who plays for a Reds side that have won four of their last five games.
The 'new-look' back-row is indeed just that. David Pocock the new skipper is a great choice. He leads from the front and is undoubtedly the best No.7 in the game and an admiral replacement captain for the injured James Horwill. Like Pocock, Scott Higginbotham deserves a chance to cement a spot as the regular No.8 and Dave Dennis gets his chance to do the same on the blindside. These three players, if given the chance, can really be a group that Deans build things around going forward.
The half back is Will Genia - a no brainer. An old look but a good look.
The No.10 or five eighth or first five or whatever he is to be called is Berrick Barnes, who gets the gig because superstars Quade Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale are all injured or battling to regain match fitness. Again, a no-brainer given the lack of options. But here's where the words 'new-look' take on a whole new meaning. The centres, wingers and fullback, aside from Digby Ioane and Anthony Faainga, will be hoping the jerseys have their names on the back as Joe Tomane, Mike Harris and Luke Morahan are all stepping up for the first time.
Tomane was playing for the Gold Coast Titans rugby league side when the World Cup was on last year. Harris played six games for the Reds before an injury ended his season. Morahan is an inspired selection. Even if Kurtley Beale was fit, this kid has been one of the finds of the Super Rugby season and deserves his spot.
The predominantly Reds backline is also a smart play from Deans. They are winning and scoring points and the Scottish backline is not renowned for its defensive prowess. So there they are, the 'new-look' Wallabies heading to Newcastle for the Test match nobody really knows is happening - that's a whole other story.
If ever Scotland had a chance to beat Australia then it is tomorrow night. The Scots are fresh and have had a couple of weeks to prepare for their opening tour game and 'new-look' or not, after a lean few years they would take a win against anybody.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Russell Barwick is a presenter for ESPN in Australia