Wallabies must avoid a false dawn
July 19, 2010
Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau could steer the Wallabies' ship in Brisbane © Getty Images
Australia's latest challenge for southern hemisphere supremacy kicks off this weekend, yet among the anticipation is a persistent chorus of doubt as to whether Robbie Deans' squad has the ability to deliver on their potential.
Deans is in need of a strong campaign that not only delivers competitive, spirited performances but more importantly, victories. The days when the ARU-dubbed 'Generation Next' could escape the blow torch with a good, yet futile effort in the Tri-Nations are long gone. It's now time to deliver the silverware.
Fortunately, due to the nature of this year's draw, which sees South Africa play all their away fixtures in consecutive weeks, the Wallabies have been able to study both opponents prior to their first fixture and will be in no doubt as to the stern mental and physical examinations ahead.
A feature of the first two Tests between the Boks and All Blacks was both teams' eagerness to dominate the physical exchanges. By winning the physical contest the All Blacks secured forward momentum which brought their lightning backs into play. The Wallabies must also dominate the ruck in Brisbane and with the Boks coming off two losses the Wallabies have the opportunity to effectively end the campaign of the reigning champions with another defeat this weekend.
History is on the Wallabies' side as they have not lost to the Springboks in Brisbane since South Africa's return to international rugby in the early 1990s, a string of six matches including that 49-0 hammering in their last visit in 2006. The South Africans have been on the road already for three weeks and it is difficult to see them having sufficient fuel in the tank to defeat a fresh and eager Wallabies outfit.
The burning issue in recent weeks has been the uncertainty as to which XV Robbie Deans will select for the opening Test. It's been a familiar characteristic of Deans' reign that nobody can ever point with certainty as to the make-up of the first team. Headlining the debate is the never-ending tale of the Wallabies' backline. One permanent fixture, for the short term at least, is fly-half Quade Cooper, who has been a standout performer throughout the Super 14 and June Tests. With legal proceedings concerning an incident late last year now behind him, Cooper is Deans' ace in the pack and will likely resume his partnership with Reds team-mate Will Genia, who thankfully returns from a thumb injury.
However, the rest of the backline is far from certain. Matt Giteau should start at 12, leaving Berrick Barnes again out in the cold, while Rob Horne is tipped to retain his spot at outside-centre. Reds rising star Anthony Faingaa is a possible surprise starter from the bench and an outside bet for the starting XV.
The Wallabies' most versatile player, Adam Ashley-Cooper, will most likely start on the wing with Drew Mitchell, while James O'Connor should pip Kurtley Beale for fullback. Mitchell's selection would mark a considerable turn of fortune given he was curiously left out of the original Tri-Nations squad. With 19 tries in 44 Tests he is one of Australia's only proven international try-scorers, but has seemed to only ever be on the periphery of Deans' first choice selections.
Another late squad inclusion is Cameron Shepherd, returning to the Wallabies for the first time since breaking his leg against France in 2008. The subsequent two years have been cruel for Shepherd, with a series of injuries curtailing his international comeback, but his timing may be opportune given the uncertainty over Australia's backline composition and injuries to Peter Hynes and Digby Ioane.
The return of Benn Robinson from a broken arm is a massive boost for the engine room, which will need the loosehead's experience against some of the world's best scrummagers. The absence of Robinson and Stephen Moore for the June internationals forced the Wallabies to blood a new set of young front-rowers including Saia Faingaa, Ben Daley, James Slipper and Salesi Ma'afu.
After receiving a harsh lesson from the English in Perth, they responded well against the Irish in Brisbane to show they are ready to support the established guard. If reports from the training paddock are to be believed David Pocock could be shifting from flanker to No.8 with Scott Higginbotham and captain Rocky Elsom completing the back-row, with the uncapped Rob Simmons in reserve.
The Wallabies can enter this tournament confident in the knowledge they have been tested by the English and Irish and performed reasonably well in the absence of a host of regulars. However, they have headed into previous tournaments full of confidence and fervour only to flop when the pressure is on. This time there is no room for a false dawn.