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Battle heating up for Wallabies' five-eighth spot


Paul Cully


15. Jesse Mogg (Brumbies) Click for more photos

Australian team of the week - February 24, 2013

Paul Cully picks the best performed Australian players from the weekend Super Rugby games. Photo: Getty Images

1. Quade Cooper has work to do to challenge the sceptics.

There was a hint of the 2011 swagger returning as the Reds five-eighth probed for spaces and sought to expose lazy defenders with the inside ball, but that is only part of the modern No.10's portfolio. The Reds' decision to shield him from defensive duties underscores his continued lack of tackling clout and some of his less judicious distribution is still as likely to put the recipient in hospital as into a gap. Curiously, the man who occupies the Wallabies' No.10 come June might not have even played at five-eighth in the first two rounds for his franchise, although Matt Toomua's brutal defence on Kurtley Beale to set up the Brumbies' first try is the sort of work that will attract approving nods. If the Wallabies do go down the path of naming an initial, protected list of players for Lions duty, Cooper's first challenge is to make sure he is on it.


Work to do ... Quade Cooper.

Work to do ... Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images

2. Selection at No.15 emphasised Folau's vulnerabilities rather than his strengths.

His athletic gifts are undeniable, but at fullback Israel Folau looked like he had been set a particularly taxing multiple-choice test in a foreign language. Dom Shipperley was not even thinking about scoring when he was put into space by Quade Cooper early on, but Folau's passive defence presented the winger with an opportunity impossible to ignore. He will improve, but his education might be best continued from the wing, allowing the promising Ben Volavola to occupy the No.15 jersey.


3. The result was the same but the problems were new.

Although there were some familiar failings in the Waratahs' performance - NSW were lucky Michael Harris was standing at No.10 when stray throws from Tatafu Polota-Nau set up Reds counter-attacks - it was the very newness of the game plan that caused the most problems. The Tahs committed 16 handling errors as the demands of the uptempo style took its toll. There is a lot to like in the approach although dropped ball can be a nasty habit that is hard to shake if it takes hold in the early rounds. But the Rebels, next weekend's opponents, looked worryingly vulnerable against the Brumbies when the visitors turned up the physicality and should present Michael Cheika's men with an opportunity to make those offloads stick.


4. Liam Gill was the pick of the Australian No.7s.

It suits the Reds to portray Gill as somewhat overlooked, but no one would hold any other opinion of Gill except a high one. He won a crucial turnover with about 10 minutes to go and in the last meaningful act of the game there he was again, hard over the ball and taking the physical punishment that goes with his trade to secure another penalty. The Reds - with valuable contributions from substitutes Jarrad Butler, James Hanson and Albert Anae - were excellent in this area when it mattered: body positions low and legs driving. Their extra week of match hardness probably told.


5. Ben Mowen is quicker than you thought.

The Brumbies captain would have heard the talk - he isn't athletic enough, he isn't physical enough - but he has answered those critics. He showed Scott Higginbotham and Kurtley Beale a clean pair of heels for his try in Melbourne, and is bringing impact to the breakdown. Bigger tests await in the New Zealand and South African back-rowers, but he has started ably.


1. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)

2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)

3. James Slipper (Reds)

4. Scott Fardy (Brumbies)

5. Rob Simmons (Reds)

6. Ed Quirk (Reds)

7. Liam Gill (Reds)

8. Ben Mowen (Brumbies)

9. Nic White (Brumbies)

10. Matt Toomua (Brumbies)

11. Digby Ioane (Reds)

12. Christian Lealifaano (Brumbies)

13. Ben Tapuai (Reds)

14. Dom Shipperley (Reds)

15. Jesse Mogg (Brumbies)

24 comments so far

  • Israel Folau is still defending space trying to shut down the forward attacking option of a hand pass or a cross kick towards goal.
    He needs to spend a season playing Brisbane club rugby, and an ITM cup campaign with whoever Tana Umanga coaches later this year.

    When did the offside rule change from being behind the last foot to half a metre in front of the last foot when you're defending in the oppositions half. And that applies to every game in the comp not just the Australian conference.

    If the Wallabies can play with the intensity and speed of the Brumbies we're in for a ripper Lions series. Every game will be worth watching

    The Waratahs haven't changed I'll still be recording and fast forwarding through the numerous, catch your breath, injury breaks.

    Reds needed to recruit better in the forwards. For all his yellow cards and brain explosions Higgenbotham kept the opposition on their toes and will be missed.

    I haven't watched the Force v Kings yet but based on last weeks performance against the Rebels they looked "light" in the forwards and they don't have the close to the ruck Sharpe fall back option this year so the Kings result wasn't unsurprising. The West is in for a long season littered with hope and disappointment.

    Re: Vinny Munro and Frank Halai. Has the penalty try changed the wording from "probably have been scored" to "might have been scored"?

    Date and time
    February 24, 2013, 9:49PM
    • I would personally choose James O'Connor at 10 and Jesse Mogg at 15. I would also have Falau in the Wallabies team, but I'd put him on the wing and use him where he's most effective, under the offensive high balls.. Not sure why they put him at full back, and if they're gonna do that they should have him chasing all the high balls in attack and have Mitchell hanging back. Not sure what the 'tahs are up to!

      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 10:26AM
      • Buddy on the weekends performance neither JOC or Folau played well enough for selection

        Date and time
        February 26, 2013, 8:26AM
    • Folau looks to me to be more suited to a centre role,watching the game on TV it looked as though he was out of his depth at fullback
      His positional play will improve if he remains at fullback but I think he would be a wonderful attacking force from outside centre,especially as the Tahs appear to want to run the ball this year.
      His defensive lapses were surprising given his league background and handling errors were
      un characteristic ,maybe it was nerves in a first up appearance and wanting to do well.
      He will be a great asset to the ARL by years end.

      Circling buzzard
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 10:59AM
      • @ Circling buzzard

        Folau instead of Carter maybe.....possibly....oh yes yes, please !

        That bit about....'a great asset to the ARL...'. I would think it would be more correct to say he'd be a 'diminished asset' to the ARL.
        Once bought then sold, then to buy again is always to the buyers advantage ?

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 12:58PM
    • I'm not sure Folau should shoulder too much blame for Shipperley's try. Understandably, he seemed to be expecting that the highly overrated AAC would live up to his undeserved hype and make the tackle somewhere in the preceding 20 metres.

      And, stojo01, I'm with you - what a disgraceful decision by Vinny Munro. These are the moments that cause people to start possibly believing that match fixing is a reality. Unfortunately Vinnie also had plenty of those moments when he had the whistle or flag, and he seems to be continuing in the same vein with the remote - let's hope its only incompetence.

      Interested Bystander
      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 11:19AM
      • Yeah... see when I watched that decision, I could see their point. You can't 'bat' the ball over the deadball line like you can in League. We all know that. The defender did nothing but swing his arm at the ball. He didn't attempt to ground it or catch it. Seems similar to deliberately knocking the ball down when the ball is passed in front of you (which is a clear penalty). If you did that within five metres of the tryline with a player in the clear, it would also be a penalty try.

        Therefore, if he had not done that, the ball would have been sitting (or rolling) in the in-goal, with the attacker free to pounce on it. Very high chance he would have manged to land on it, even I could have done that.

        At first it looked like a howler. But I am comfortable that it was the right decision. I have the luxury of saying that as it didn't influence the outcome. Bear in mind also that we don't want a grey area surrounding shovelling the ball out in goal to deny tries. I think this decision will make it pretty clear. Kick it sure... but don't just throw an arm at it and hope for the best like League.

        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 12:11PM
      • My main beef is that I don't think the action of the defender could uncategorically be deemed deliberate. From the head on shot it appeared that he was reaching for the ball then got knocked and made a hash of it. If the attacker made contact first (and his hand was only centimetres away) would he have been penalised for a deliberate knock on?

        Interested Bystander
        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 12:50PM
      • Agreed, but his actions never looked like an attempt to ground the ball. Only ever looked like he wanted to knock it away. Hard to force the ball or catch it with one hand, facing sideways.

        Anyhoo, all done and in the book now. Doesn't come up very often so hopefully won't see it again. BTW, think a penalty try AND a yellow card is way too much.

        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 2:17PM
      • Halai is a big unit and he is faster and ahead of Savea, Savea puts a shoulder into him but doesn't budge him off the line of the ball.
        If Frank Halai didn't illegally bat the ball over the deadball line but made a legal play to ground the ball for a 22 dropout Savea would still have had to get around or ahead of Halai and ground the ball. Clearly it's a case of "might have scored".
        When I last looked the penalty try wording was "probably have scored"

        Stupid play by Halai, but we've all done things equally as stupid on a footy field, it deserved a yellow card and a penalty, but a penalty try? no way. Poor decision, if they don't agree with me on Reunion i give in.

        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 6:33PM

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