Backs to the wall … Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
HOW about this line-up for a Wallabies side to play the Pumas at Rosario?
Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Rob Horne, James O'Connor, Lachie Turner, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia; Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Dan Vickerman, James Horwill, David Pocock, Salesi Ma'afu, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kefu. You can choose the reserves from Christian Lealiifano, Dan Palmer, Joe Tomane, Rod Davies, Cooper Vuna, Ben Lucas, Bernard Foley, Matt Hodgson, Jake Schatz, Nic White and Matt Toomua. And if he condescends to pull on the "yellow" jersey, you can include Quade Cooper in this group as well. This collection of crocks would comfortably defeat the team of battered warriors that Robbie Deans has fielded to play a confident Pumas side.
Despite this, former Wallabies captain Andrew Slack recently gave ARU chief executive John O'Neill a dressing down for daring to make the claim that injuries have affected the Wallabies' win-loss ratio this season. But O'Neill's point is a valid one. It is not an excuse. It is more an explanation. The best Wallabies side is not on the field. Adding to the impact of the injury toll on the Wallabies is that Rosario is to Argentinians what Loftus Versfeld is to South Africans. The city has a revolutionary passion for rugby, as befits the birthplace of rugby tragic Che Guevara.
The Pumas drew 16-16 with the Springboks in their first home Test in the Rugby Championship. Last weekend the Pumas conceded seven tries to the All Blacks at La Plata. They won the approval of the rugby community, though, by trying to match the All Blacks in what may be described, using a tennis term, as an all-court attacking game.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, conceded five tries to the Springboks and were condemned. Throughout the Test, Wallabies went down like nine-pins in a bowling tournament. There were times when the Springboks' attacks were countered by a dozen Wallabies. In the circumstances, the Wallabies showed old-fashioned guts to hold the score to 31-8.
At the end of the season there needs to be a review of the injury toll. I offer these contrarian thoughts for consideration. The accepted wisdom is that the number of matches players contest should be cut. But throughout their careers, from schoolboys to first class, New Zealanders play more rugby than their Australian counterparts. Should Australia follow this model? Should the emphasis in Australia shift from the gym to more actual game time for players, at all levels? Is there too much building up of muscled contours and not enough aerobic work in the gym work?
Compare and contrast the body types and playing styles of David Pocock and Richie McCaw. New Zealand teams place a much higher emphasis on aerobic fitness than is applied in Australia. This shows up on the field and possibly in the injury lists. I was told before the June Tests by an insider (admittedly not a member of the coaching staff) that there was great concern in the Wallabies' camp about the lack of fitness of the Super Rugby players, especially those coming from the Waratahs. Are the franchises too accepting of the scientific and bio-mechanic theories and advice they are getting, when results and injuries suggests that the theories need to be challenged and perhaps adjusted?
Perhaps the most positive thing that can be said about the run of injuries is that what does not kill you makes you stronger. With 38 players used in 10 Tests, the injury toll has opened up chances for fringe players. Sitaleki Timani and Michael Hooper, for instance, should now be regulars in the Wallabies' pack for some years. Nic Phipps has shown that there is life after Will Genia. Kurtley Beale has the chance to entrench himself as the long-term playmaker in the back line.
For the Wallabies, nothing strengthens resolve and character quite like overcoming difficult times. In this context, a win tonight against the Pumas at Rosario will be one of the great triumphs of Australian rugby.