Greg Growden writes ...
Wallabies must reciprocate McKenzie's faith
November 8, 2013
Greg Growden wonders how 14 Wallabies retained their starting spots after Twickenham © Getty Images
Ewen McKenzie claims he has an overflow of leaders among his Wallabies © Getty Images
Well at least the Wallabies should be able to win a lineout against Italy after loading their pack with genial giants.
Nonetheless, with a team featuring only one change in the starting XV, countless Wallabies are lucky to be given another chance after their spineless effort at Twickenham, where indecision, poor leadership and a rudderless approach that we think may have been a game plan saw them lose to a sub-standard England opposition.
Ben Mowen, who somehow holds onto his Test captaincy and back-row spot after being brutally exposed at Twickenham, where he floundered during crucial pressure moments, leads the lucky brigade.
Test captains should not be those who are fighting to convince the masses they are even deserving of an international starting spot, let alone leading the team out. But these are weird times in the wacky Wallabies world, and so he remains as skipper. It's all so confounding, prompting deep concern within Australia that the Azzurri could easily overpower a rapidly diminishing rugby nation for the first time in the 30-year history of Italy-Wallabies Test encounters. So this is the moment for Mowen to show whether he is actually up to it, otherwise the Wallabies will easily eclipse the Socceroos as Australia's most embarrassing international team of 2013.
Greg Growden and Russ Barwick film outside to stay in the moment%]
As Will Genia strangely appears to be on the outer, and James Horwill has lost his footing, Mowen appears a captain of last resort. But a better alternative remains within the team in hooker Stephen Moore, who has been close to the team's most consistent player this season.
Moore at least generates respect. Referees listen to him. Opponents respect him. Teammates look up to him because he leads from the front - which is required at the moment, as too many others have gone missing. Moore is an experienced, "been there done that" Test player. Mowen is certainly not. Then again, it is impossible to argue leadership logic at the moment, when Quade Cooper, who just over a year ago was persona non-grata with several of his Test teammates and Wallabies officials, is now vice-captain.
Hopefully sanity will at last return against Italy, and Ewen McKenzie's faith in numerous players, who haven't shown much in return, is reciprocated. Italy will focus on the Wallabies up front, and Australia won't have any excuses if they falter again at scrum time - or be able to complain that the media, referees, the International Rugby Board and the boogy man are out to get them - after bulking up their pack with the inclusion of Rob Simmons in the back-row.
Another gnawing factor lingers.
When announcing the team, McKenzie made the intriguing comment: "I'm way more interested in individual performance rather than worrying about leadership, because I know there are a lot of leaders there anyway."
That's fine. But it is high time this apparent overflow of front-foot characters proved to the general public, and not just to their coach, that they are leaders on the pitch not on paper. A big difference.
Ben Mowen stands chief among the Wallabies playing not just for his spot but for his Test career © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd