Wallabies boosted by baby-faced assassins
Keiran Smith
June 22, 2009
Australia's James O'Connor stretches the Italy defence, Australia v Italy, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Australia, June 20, 2009
Wallabies youngster James O'Connor stretches the Italy defence in Melbourne on Saturday © Getty Images

Three matches, three victories, 120 points scored and no significant injury concerns - not a bad start to the season for the Wallabies.

But the best result so far has been the coming of age of (hopefully) the next Wallabies golden generation.

On Saturday night, Robbie Deans' fielded one of the youngest ever Wallabies line-ups, averaging just 23.6 years, with league convert Ryan Cross, at 29, the oldest wearing gold.

Deans has traded experience for speed and raw confidence and his tyros hardly looked phased by their Six Nations opponents.

Baby-faced assassins including James O'Connor, Lachie Turner, David Pocock and Quade Cooper looked far more comfortable in the Test arena than their experience and age should allow. It seems the adage of "if you're good enough you're old enough" is alive and well in the 2009 Wallabies vintage. But let's not get the brass polish ready for the Bledisloe and Tri Nations just yet.

Yes, the performances have been pleasing to the eye and some of the individuals involved have firmly staked their claim for the more important matches ahead, but let us remember we've only beaten a (woeful) Barbarians and Italy twice.

These teams are hardly world-beaters and can in no way be seen as a litmus test for what is to come. That test may indeed arrive soon enough with the French, revelling from a fine NZ tour, in Sydney for a one-off Test this week.

What can be judged from the opening matches is that the Wallabies have picked up their coach's ruthless streak in despatching weaker rivals. It wasn't that long ago when the Wallabies would labour to a victory, but this season they've started at a lightning pace and won inside half-time.

The fans are voting with their feet too, with three strong crowds for what were hardly crowd-pulling opponents, suggesting the Wallabies bandwagon is back on the rails.

There's good news off the field as well with the ARU announcing the Wallabies will get their first crack at a Grand Slam in 25 years, during the Spring Tour in November. This is a massive coup for the Wallabies and will put them firmly on the media and public radar during an otherwise relatively quiet time for Aussie sport.

Winning the Grand Slam for a second time may be easier said then done. The Wallabies have found it difficult in recent years to string victories together, especially away from home, so the back-to-back weekly grind against the Home Unions should be just the sort of challenge Deans would want for his young side with the RWC rising on the horizon.

Although not everyone's smiling. Lote Tuqiri has yet to be sighted after three internationals and given the strong performances of what were once his understudies, it might be a while before we do see Lote wearing gold again. It's been a dramatic fall from grace for the world's former premier winger, who's now plying his trade for West Harbour in the Sydney suburban competition.

Tuqiri's demise (temporary or otherwise) is a curious juxtaposition to the pre-Deans era, where there were a core group of 'untouchables' in the squad. It could be argued several players were picked on their name and not much else, which had the effect of stunting the development and depth of the Wallabies squad, as brutally exposed on a certain Saturday afternoon in Marseille in 2007.

Defenders of this selection policy pointed to loyalty and faith in their senior players as the motivators behind the decisions, but somewhere along the line objectivity and accountability were lost in the Wallabies set up.

Refreshingly, Deans has brought a ruthless and no-strings attached approach to his selections and is not afraid to make the tough call on senior players. Nathan Sharpe and Phil Waugh have already received the harsh treatment. Indeed, Sharpe has managed to claw his way back into the starting side after a string of strong of performances at the backend of the last year's Tri Nations but Waugh has yet to be given that opportunity.

He did come off the bench in Melbourne on Saturday and has bravely chosen to fight for his Wallabies position ahead of some very lucrative overseas offers. Many would not of thought less of Waugh if he took the money on offer in France or the UK but his decision shows his strength of character that has earned him legendary status in Australia, if not the world. There's just the small snag that the national coach doesn't agree.

Now it's Lote's time to face the Deans' challenge. Only time will tell how he responds.


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