The bad news for the British Lions is that the Wallabies have a number of players running into form ahead of the Lions series. The good news for the British Lions is that Robbie Deans is unable or unwilling to select them all.
Australian sides have been caning the best of New Zealand in this year’s Super 15. The 6-1 stat is a bit misleading because the Crusaders rested players against the Force and were diddled by circumstances outside their control (questionable reffing and a pitch invasion). The Canes were similarly unlucky against the Reds earlier in the season and the Chiefs are badly missing Kerr-Barlow.
Having said all of which, the Brumbies and the Reds have given Deans a real power base to select from. All Blacks selector Grant Fox said this week, “I’m particularly impressed with how they (Aussie Super 15 sides) look after the ball. I’d actually argue they are doing it better than most of our sides at the moment . . . to retain possession and just keep recycling and be patient.
“There are some varying tactics. The Brumbies have got a very, very strong kicking game but everyone is on the same page and they know what they are doing. They kick the ball well and they just execute the little things…Good on them, there is competition for Wallabies spots for the Lions series.”
The contest would be even stronger if the Wallabies seek a temporary release for George Smith (currently turning out for the Brumbies) from his club contract in Japan. That would make the veteran, but still outstanding flanker, eligible. But sadly for Deans, Fijian born wing Henry Speight does not qualify until the end of the Super 15 season.
The biggest question, though, is whether Deans can make up with Quade Cooper having omitted him from his initial squad (Berrick Barnes and James O’Connor were the options at 10). Will Genia has recently said he prefers playing with Cooper. Bill Pulver, the new Aussie CEO, refused to give Deans a vote of confidence last week, but said he “wouldn’t be too concerned” by his squad omission if he were Quade Cooper. In other words, pick him Robbie.
But perhaps the biggest selection headache for Deans is whether he sacrifices lineout strength in order to pick his best players. If Deans wanted his best Wallaby back five, with disregard to the lineout, it might be Sitaleki Tiamani, James Horwill, George Smith, Wycliff Palu and Michael Hooper.
It is a powerful unit, but only Horwill is an out-and-out lineout option. So does Tamani go for Kane Douglas, does Dave Dennis or Ben Mowen come into the back row, even Liam Gill for Michael Hooper gives an extra option in an area of traditional Aussie strength.
The easier question (you would hope) is does Deans pick his best scrummaging front row and go for the Brumbies unit or stick with the likes of Kepu, Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson in order to increase his open field options. Surely Deans must go with the boys from the Brumbies, but maybe you disagree.
But at least, to some extent, Deans is spoiled for choice. That certainly did not seem likely to be the case five months ago.
Here’s a suggested Wallabies XV to take on the Lions, but we would love to have your feedback.
Mogg, O’Connor, Ashley Cooper, Lealiifano, Ioane, Quade Cooper, Genia (capt), Alexander, Moore, Palmer, Douglas, Horwill, Smith, Hooper, Palu (Slipper, Polota-Nau, Tamani, Mowen, White, Barnes, Beale)HoH