The Rugby Championship Preview: Australia
Nickname: The Wallabies
Coach: Robbie Deans
Ground: ANZ Stadium (Main Ground)
Whilst Australia will be the Tri-Nations champions forever more, they enter this competition with uncertainty and lacking confidence for the first time in years. The steady upward curve of their international performances and results has begun to flatten out, and this has been echoed domestically in Super Rugby. Whilst the normal Australian franchises were still lurking at the wrong end of the league table, the more reliable Reds only just squeaked into a quarterfinal spot. They did have an injury-hit campaign, but against the Sharks in the quarters they had almost everyone fit and healthy.
The fact they then lost at home in that quarter-final echoes the point about the unpredictability at the moment in Australian rugby: one moment sublime, the next ridiculous. This has led to a most recent development in Australian sport, whereby ex-players such as David Campese, an Australian legend, have verbally criticised the wallaby players’ work ethic and the lack of vision showed by the Australian governing body.
The old tried and tested approach of Will Genia at scrum-half and Quade Cooper at fly-half was thought to be, in Australia at least, able to do anything, and if they can begin to fire like they have done in the past, nothing is yet out of the question for this Australian team.
However, with coach Robbie Deans not even selecting Cooper for his first match day 22-man squad, things are not looking as rosy as they once were in the Australian back garden. Berrick Barnes has been given the starting 10 jersey, and whilst he did play well during Cooper’s injury in the summer tests, his most recent form for the Waratahs should be a concern for supporters.
But fear not, things should not be all doom and gloom down under, Deans can still call upon Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane, James Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper, who are all capable of taking a game away from any team in the world. Not forgetting their formidable openside flanker David Pocock: one of, if not the best in the business.
With James O’Connor ruled out along with Pat McCabe for the first few weeks of the tournament, if not longer, this will be a tough start for the Wallabies. These two game-changers are two of the most reliable performers the Wallabies have, and without them other players will need to stand up and be counted.
The Australian front row has always been a thorny issue for the Wallaby selectors and as yet they have not been able to come up with an adequate front row to bully other teams. The likes of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota Nau, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu and Stephen Moore will have to massively front up if they are to get any parity at scrum time.
Look out for Drew Mitchell: hopefully he’ll be able to avoid injury and show the skill-set and form he had before he was blighted by a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Also keep an eye out for Rob Simmons, definitely one for the future – this Reds player is in the same mould as Nathan Sharpe and will be there or thereabouts come the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
Just a final word on Nathan Sharpe, it’s his final tournament as a Wallaby, fantastic servant to his country and damn fine second row too.
Difficult not to look at 3rd, but with Deans in charge they probably have enough tactical nous to scrape into 2nd, but it will be close.