The Growden Report
Nic Stirzaker provides light at end of exodus tunnel
Greg Growden
April 19, 2015
Brumbies 8-13 Rebels (Australia only)

Australian rugby is quivering over the threat of losing so much of its playing resources to overseas clubs, but there are at least a few young 'uns showing they have the ability to fill the void.

Test vacancies are expected to be plentiful after the mass exodus of players following the Rugby World Cup, and so Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will be looking at Super Rugby tournament to find those ready for the next step.

Rebels half-back Nic Stirzaker on Saturday did all he could to remind Cheika he should be part of the next generation of Wallabies players. Then Adam Korczyk - the standout player at this year's Australian under-20 tournament - showed after coming off the bench for the Reds that he could also be something special.

The Rebels' Nic Stirzaker bursts clear, Brumbies v Rebels, Canberra, April 18, 2015
Nic Stirzaker is having a fine season at scrum-half for the Rebels © Getty Images
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As Nic White, Will Genia and Luke Burgess are all heading overseas later this year, there is hardly an abundance of quality No.9s left in Australia. But for some time, the 24-year-old Stirzaker has been producing the standard of performance that can only impress Cheika, as it involves aggression, initiative, skill and unpredictability. He also has that crucial element required in a top notch No.9: a bit of cheek. As crucially, he is prepared to seize the moment - as on Saturday when he took advantage of the Brumbies not having White to dominate the scrum base battle. The Brumbies' new No.9, Michael Dowsett, struggled appreciably, and too often resorted to unnecessary box kicks, and Stirzaker pounced.

The Rebels' only try emanated from Stirzaker's initiative from a scrum set on half-way. Noticing the Brumbies' defence on the short side was somewhat flimsy, Stirzaker took off, showing great speed over 25 metres before putting his winger Sefanaia Naivalu away. The Rebels protected that lead for the rest of the game, with Stirzaker at the forefront of making certain the troops remained organised and focused. This level of authority has been going on for some time, to the extent that it would not even surprise if Stirzaker's name appears in the Wallabies' final World Cup squad list.

Meanwhile, after so many dismal nights watching the Reds, one was jolted out of the customary stupor by observing closely the 20-year-old Korczyk when he was required from the opening minutes in Bloemfontein to replace injured blindside flanker Curtis Browning.

Cheetahs 17-18 Reds (Australia only)
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Korczyk was named Player of the Tournament at the national under-20 championships in Canberra in March, showing his versatility by playing second-row, No 8 and openside flanker. Against the Cheetahs, Korczyk was used as a key jumper at the front of the lineout, winning numerous throws, while he was forever present around the field. His defence was stoic, while knowing the importance of hovering around those who can make a difference, being in the right spot to take advantage of a James O'Connor break to score the Reds first try.

There was so much to like in his performance - as there was with the Waratahs when they at last reminded everyone that they were actually defending titleholders. After weeks of being croaky, the Waratahs regained their voice against the Hurricanes, with their big names leading the chorus. Bernard Foley produced his best performance for some time; Wycliff Palu was a driven man after being so quiet for so long; and Will Skelton was again a threat. They created the necessary momentum.

Hurricanes 24-29 Waratahs (Australia only)
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The Waratahs' success last year relied heavily on them being so aggressive in defence. That aspect returned at the Cake Tin in Wellington, giving them hope with the Brumbies currently decimated by injury that they could leap-frog the Canberra side to take charge of the Australian conference.

At the other end, the Force's dreadful season that began with victory over Waratahs in the opening round before losing every game since can be summarised by scrum-half Alby Mathewson's reaction when replaced early in the second half against the Stormers.

To say he was unimpressed is the understatement of the year.

Peering up at the grandstand, most probably at the coach's box, you didn't have to be a lip reader to work out what Mathewson was muttering. Like many of the Force's efforts this year, it wasn't savoury.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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