Top Wallabies must pick up act for Lions
March 19, 2013
Quade Cooper's passing game is awry and his confidence as a ball-runner has flagged in 2013 © Getty Images
Robbie Deans' tried-and-true Wallabies favourites need to significantly lift their acts if they hope to be involved in this winter's British and Irish Lions series. Very few of Deans' established Test team which ended last season would be picked in a form Australian 15 after the first five rounds of Super Rugby.
While the coach is weekly picking the best side of each round as a selection exercise, he ideally wants to rely on pre-existing combinations and bank on experienced soldiers for what ranks among the most intense battles in Test rugby.
Only a couple of uncapped players were included in the Wallabies' extended 49-man squad for a logistics camp earlier this year and Deans has admitted it would be a difficult arena for a rookie to make his Test debut.
But Wallabies captain James Horwill shone a light on the issue when he stressed form - not experience nor reputation - should be the priority for selectors when they pick their squad for the three-Test series on June 1.
"Oh definitely; you want the best guys picked," Horwill said, when asked whether uncapped players should be chosen on form. "We're in a performance-based industry and guys need to keep performing to continue to get their spot. That works at this level and any level."
"You have to keep performing to keep your position and that's the most important thing," Horwill added. "It is positive for Australian rugby, as a whole, that there are guys who are putting their hand up who were not mentioned in that Wallabies space."
Deans has admitted Brumbies trio Christian Lealiifano, Ben Mowen and Jesse Mogg have put themselves into contention with their tremendous starts to 2013 while numerous rising teammates could also be in the frame for Test debuts.
In contrast, the large majority of Wallabies who played in the last Test against Wales on December 1 have been well off their best. Only Brumbies front-rowers Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore, Reds prop James Slipper, and three-quarters Ben Tapuai and Digby Ioane have been in good form.
The biggest form problems are at New South Wales Waratahs, who boast 11 incumbent Wallabies, where their stars have stumbled so far this season.
Queensland playmaker Quade Cooper, unable to repeat his scintillating form prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup and a knee reconstruction, has created a different selection headache for Deans.
Cooper's normally-sharp passing game is awry, while his confidence as a ball-runner has flagged. Deans has used Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale all at five-eighth when they were last fit and it remains the most contentious selection for the Lions series.
Reds director of coaching Ewen McKenzie expects Cooper will improve once he renews his combination with fit-again halfback Will Genia.
"He's a bit off the pace from '11 but a lot of things have happened since then," McKenzie said. "There's different people around him every week so it will settle down with combinations."