Australian rugby
Wallabies No.10 jersey remains vacant
Greg Growden
March 14, 2013

As Sam Warburton will testify, selection hopes all revolve around timing. One good game at the right time of the season and suddenly a mess looks like a messiah.

A few weeks ago, Wales 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam-winning captain appeared to have no hope of making the British and Irish Lions tour, with injury and demotion to the reserves bench working against him. Then he is given a second chance. A starting XV openside flanker spot against Scotland, a man-of-the-match performance, and abracadabra, Warburton is well in the running for a tour spot, and even resurrected himself as a possible Lions captain.

On this side of the world, there are numerous Wallabies potentials who are hoping something similar happens to them - especially in the pivotal No.10 position.

After several Super Rugby rounds, the Test No.10 jersey has a big VACANT sign written across it. No one has come close to making it theirs, and all candidates must be relieved there are still plenty of rounds left to either convince the Test selectors they are the man, or resign themselves to another international series mulling away on the sideline.

At the moment, the frontrunner would be the Brumbies No.10 Matt Toomua. But it is unlikely the Wallabies will look at him, as they prefer Christian Lealiifano, who is instead playing at No.12 for the Canberra franchise. The selectors would be hoping that Lealiifano gets some time at pivot, but you can understand the Brumbies ignoring the hints from above, because at the moment the pairing of Toomua at No.10 and Lealiifano in midfield is working.

And you wonder why Toomua looks good. While he is a talented and resourceful player, he is made to look so much better due to the excellent service he receives from his scrum-half Nic White, who is easily the best No.9 running around among the Australian teams.

White is performing so well that even Will Genia, about to return to the Super Rugby ranks, knows that he had better find his form quickly with the Reds, or his Wallabies spot will be placed under serious scrutiny. White has an admirable pass that always hits the target, and enables the Brumbies backs to perform at high pace.

Cooper hasn't done anything glaringly wrong in the opening rounds, but still at times has been subdued ... as if he is nervously pacing himself before a
boxing bout.

Kurtley Beale is the Test heir apparent, but whether the Wallabies persevere with him there is debatable, as they prefer to play him at fullback. James O'Connor is the man at the Rebels they are pushing to be the No.10, but he hasn't shown enough this season to convince all he is ready for the next step. Suddenly O'Connor's defence has become a bit tentative. That happens when oppositions, thinking you're vulnerable, keep charging at you.

As for the problem child - Quade Cooper - he appears to be in a holding pattern. Cooper hasn't done anything glaringly wrong in the opening rounds, but still at times has been subdued. In his case it will be a case of timing. When Genia returns, he will make Cooper, who appears as if he is nervously pacing himself before a boxing bout, look decidedly better. There won't be as much run around in wide circle antics, but a more direct approach.

An encouraging sign this year is that Cooper has not been hidden away in defence as much as before. He is not the world's best tackler, but he is also not the world's worst and it is pleasing to see him in the frontline far more often. It all revolves around what is going on in Cooper's head, and whether Wallabies coach Robbie Deans can get the best out of him. Some of Cooper's pointed remarks towards the Wallabies and Deans last year is a fair indicator this could be a tricky task.

As for the Waratahs, Bernard Foley remains a work in process. The early signs are encouraging, but he still has to prove that he is infallible under pressure. He also has to keep Berrick Barnes at bay. And Western Force at the moment are just making up the numbers.

Overall, the timing of the local No.10 contingent is like Australian Rugby at present - a bit off the pace.

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick share all the latest from the rugby rumour mill and preview this weekend's Six Nations and Super Rugby action.
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