Touch, pause…Engage? Posted about 12 years ago

Touch, pause…actually it has been an incredibly long pause since the Wallabies have engaged a decent tighthead prop. My chum and colleague Brendon Ratcliffe (OBB) says that he will eat his hat if a team without a substantial tight five ever wins a World Cup. So will Australia be penalised for collapsing again at the 2015 World Cup?

My head suspects that OBB is right, although my heart wants to pretend that Australia can win. I want a team with backs like Will Genia, James O’Connor, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale and various mini Coopers to rule the world.

I want a team that averaged 24 years of age against Wales at the weekend to become a match for Mark Ella’s Wallabies. I want players who can step and pass and use space to triumph over the tedious bashers that dominate Northern Hemisphere rugby. In short, and the Wallaby backs are pretty short compared to the Matt Banahans of the world, I want skill to prevail.

And somewhere in my wing mirror I can see OBB shaking his head at such romantic foolishness and I know he is right. If Nick Mallett gets hold of England – translation: if the RFU has a strange moment of clarity and appoints an able coach/manager – then the white shirts will bully their way into contention in four years time.

If France realises that it is okay for them to be good away from home, then they should be a force in 2015. If the All Blacks can find a lock with half of Brad Thorn’s grunt, then they will be serious scrummagers when they arrive to defend their crown. If South Africa can find a piston to take over from Bakkies Botha and if Wales can keep their first choice front row fit and find a tractor-lock, then they too will be a power in the land.

But what of these Wallabies? Captain James Horwill said they want to be ranked the number one team in the world next year. Well, he better keep pushing weights in the gym and he better find a few props in the outback. Keith Murdoch is out there somewhere, but he’s a bit old at the moment.
The Australian scrum went much better at the weekend but can we judge them against a Wales team without Adam Jones and lacking real grunt in the second row. Aussie scrum coach Patricio Noriega speaks well of Salesi Ma’afu, but not many Wallaby fans seem to agree. He is certainly not a wrecker.

In the noughties the Wallabies tried 11 different tighthead props. Anyone recall Fletcher Dyson, Glen Panaho and David Fitter? How strange that a nation which turns out so many brilliant athletes, can’t find a plumber’s apprentice to shore up their scrum.

And so Robbie Deans keeps trying to convert looseheads into tightheads and it just doesn’t work. You wonder what Ewen Mckenzie makes of it all. How strange that Australia’s best tighthead of the previous 25 years, with coaching experience in France and a Super XV title under his belt, has not been appointed to solve Australia’s eternal problem at international level.

Maybe the rest of the world should be thankful, because if Australia ever finds a way to scrummage again, then the World Cup will be a no contest.

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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