Ruck'n Maul
Who are the Wallabies' positional certainties?
Greg Growden
May 22, 2015
Ruck'n Maul: Touch judges are becoming statues

Michael Cheika is grateful the Rugby Championship is still two months away because his Wallabies team sheet currently is virtually a blank page. Usually in a Rugby World Cup season, you have a reasonable idea of the starting XV some time out from the tournament. Not this year. Due to fluctuating personal form and the absence of an Australian team dominating the others in Super Rugby, there are very few players who can claim they are anywhere near being outright favourites for Test spots. The only positional certainty at the moment is Israel Folau at fullback. Australia has an abundance of capable candidates in a few spots - openside flanker (Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Liam Gill and Matt Hodgson) and half-back (Nic White, Nick Phipps, Will Genia and Nic Stirzaker) - but in most positions there is either a lack of depth or not enough in-form performers. The tight five continues to look a problem area. Cheika hopes all this uncertainty will work in his favour - and see a general lift in form from Australian players in the final four rounds of the tournament. The pre-finals month of the Super Rugby season will be imperative in determining whether numerous players will make an appearance during the Rugby Championship, which sees Australia play their first match against South Africa in Brisbane on July 18, and the World Cup in September-October. Cheika will also be on the lookout for those who are holding back for fear of injury before the World Cup. In recent rounds, there are several who would struggle to deny that was the case.

Beware South African master of disaster, Rebels

SANZAR had to admit the bleeding obvious this week when dropping several referees and TMOs after a round of endless blunders. But somehow the South African master of disaster, Stuart Berry remains; and beware Rebels, who will confront him against the Stormers in Cape Town this weekend. TMO made several perplexing calls last weekend, but their job in the booth hasn't been made any easier by being constantly asked by the central referee to make decisions. As one exasperated Waratahs supporter said after Rohan Hoffmann yet again referred to TMO George Ayoub last Saturday night: "This game won't end until midnight." Also numerous touch judges have sadly become statues, constantly missing indiscretions that occur right in front of their eyes.

Will Skelton has met his match

The ever-imposing Waratahs forward Will Skelton, who has a way of frightening opponents with his smash-up-derby runs, has met his match. As he explains in this weekend's Waratahs match program, Skelton was married a month ago. "Kate's a Kiwi girl and obviously knows her rugby," Skelton said. "She tells me when I am playing well or not. It's great. She's one of the first people I see after a game and I never want to disappoint her."

Light at the end of the financial black hole in Melbourne

Enormous relief at the ARU that at last a private owner has been found for the Rebels. A Melbourne-based investment company, Imperium Group, owned by Christchurch-born businessman Andrew Cox, has signed a heads of agreement to buy all the shares in the Rebels. In recent years, propping up the Rebels has cost the Australian Rugby Union more than Aus$8 million. It is important for rugby to have a foothold in Melbourne, but the franchise has to be financially viable.

Super Rugby Preview: Round 15
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Nick Stiles plays down influence of Knuckles

Interesting quotes from Nick Stiles on a South African website this week, the Reds forwards coach playing down the influence of John Connolly since his return to the team as an adviser. Styles said the revival of form against the Rebels was due to the players not wanting a repeat of the Christchurch disaster in which they fell apart against the Crusaders. "Everyone lifted after the poor performance against the Crusaders," Stiles said. "[Connolly] has had no involvement with set-pieces, to be honest. He has come in as a coaching consultant and he is looking at areas from recruitment to how we play and train and give feedback. That [losing to the Crusaders] was more of a motivating factor than getting Connolly in."

Reds exit door takes another revolution

Despite the belief of some blinkered Brisbaneites that Knuckles Connolly's return will bolster the Reds ranks, more important players are leaving. The Queensland Rugby Union on Thursday night issued a downbeat press release announcing that hooker James Hanson was heading to the Rebels next season. Hanson will be a big loss for the Reds. Star back-rower Liam Gill has also stressed he is seriously considering an offer from the Rebels. He will be an even bigger loss.

Get a life outside coaching or get a dog

When Naka Drotske decided recently that he would step down as Cheetahs coach, he gave a hint of how hard the position was - especially the public scrunity. He quoted the famous line of Dr Danie Craven, who once said: "The more I see of people the more I love my dog."

"I could never really understand the true meaning of this until I started coaching," Drotske said. "My immediate advice to a new coach would therefore be 'get a dog'."

What do cats do to keep fit?

Manly coach Damien Cummins has some unusual ways of inspiring his players. Before last weekend's top-of-the-table Shute Shield match against Eastwood, he decided to lighten the atmosphere by asking the players to bring their favourite picture of a cat and then one of the guys had to tell a joke at the matchday team meeting.

We heard the joke was: What do cats do to keep fit?

"They do puss ups."

Complaints about the quality of that joke should be directed to Manly Marlins. But the tactic worked as Manly won.

Also sighted at Manly Oval last Saturday was former Waratahs defence coach and now Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss, along with renowned rugby league scribe Dean 'Bulldog' Ritchie, who was celebrating his birthday alongside legendary Subbies media muckraker Richard Dean.

Whispers of the Week

  • The Western Force are on-field strugglers, but their off-field influence at the ARU is overwhelming. Two Force directors, who have the ear of union chief executive Bill Pulver, were recently sighted in Sydney with an influential board director and a rugby scribe. The tone of upcoming stories will be very interesting. Changes afoot, maybe?
  • Waratahs matches are renowned for strange sightings - even moments of deep affection involving officials. Good to see one lovingly helping a very tired and emotional peer out of the ground after a recent fixture.

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