Size matters for Ewen McKenzie
September 18, 2013
Liam Gill was strong all season for Queensland Reds in Super Rugby © Getty Images
The decision of former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to overlook a specialist back-up No.7 cost Australia dear at Rugby World Cup 2011, but Ewen McKenzie is happy to roll the same dice having dumped Queensland Reds ball-scavenger Liam Gill from the 28-man squad to play The Rugby Championship Tests in South Africa and Argentina.
Gill joins Quade Cooper and Will Genia as influential Reds stars overlooked at some stage by their former Super Rugby coach, with versatile back-rower Ben McCalman set to back-up openside flanker Michael Hooper in Cape Town and Rosario.
McCalman played the same role in New Zealand in 2011, when Deans' gamble backfired dramatically after David Pocock was injured before the pool match against Ireland at Eden Park. The Western Force No.8 started, and Australia were exposed at the breakdown in their tournament-deciding 15-6 loss.
Two years later, McKenzie believes power is more influential than speed at the tackle contest after the Wallabies were overpowered by the bigger Springboks pack in their painful 38-12 loss at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Gill was dropped from the bench after that game, with 124kg piledriver Sitaleki Timani included for the ugly 14-13 win over Argentina in Perth. McKenzie said Gill, 21, was unlucky but his dumping showed Australia's desire to impose themselves more physically.
Ewen McKenzie strengthens his pack%]
"South Africa and Argentina are always brutal games, so you need to give an edge to physicality in your selections," McKenzie said. "You need to fight fire with fire to some extent, and it's pretty clear that we've brought in added size as well as more experience for these next two games."
The experience has come in the form of recalled stalwart prop Benn Robinson, as well as fit-again skipper James Horwill, to beef up and stabilise Australia's worryingly shaky scrum. The two veterans have a combined 99 caps worth of experience in the tight five. "That's invaluable when you are playing in hostile environments away from home," McKenzie said.
Robinson was contentiously overlooked for the opening four Rugby Championship Tests, but the Wallabies struggles with the new soft-engagement laws prompted his return in favour of Scott Sio. "He's not going to be overawed by the environment or the games we've got to play - two difficult games," McKenzie said of the 59-Test prop. "Cape Town against the Boks and Rosario against Argentina - you couldn't find more complicated games to play on the road. I don't think anyone is going to back us to win these next two games but there is a terrific opportunity to continue to improve and surprise a few people."
Backing Horwill to remain as captain ahead of Ben Mowen, McKenzie was confident the lock would overcome his hamstring strain to start on Saturday week in Cape Town where the Wallabies last won in 1992. Brumbies winger Joe Tomane, meanwhile, is in line to replace Nick Cummins (broken hand) while uncapped Reds duo Albert Anae and Chris Feuai-Sautia have also been added to the squad.
Wallabies Tour Squad
Forwards: James Slipper, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Saia Fainga'a, Albert Anae, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen, Dave Dennis.
Backs: Nic White, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Matt Toomua, Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Joe Tomane, Chris Feauai-Sautia, James O'Connor, Israel Folau.