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European campaign a useful audition for Lions tour

Date

Paul Cully

Prominent ... Michael Hooper's rise has been so fast that previously unthinkable scenarios, such as moving David Pocock to No.8 or introducing a job-sharing arrangement at openside, have been publicly entertained.

Prominent ... Michael Hooper's rise has been so fast that previously unthinkable scenarios, such as moving David Pocock to No.8 or introducing a job-sharing arrangement at openside, have been publicly entertained. Photo: Getty Images

If some members of the Wallabies squad to tour Europe announced yesterday are yet to fully comprehend the scale of the British and Irish Lions tour next year, they can be forgiven. When Justin Harrison put that massive left mitt in front of Martin Johnson in an iconic moment from the deciding third Test against the tourists in Sydney in 2001, Liam Gill was nine years old.

But that's about to change. When they flick through the British press while on their European travels they will quickly realise the spring tour is firmly being seen through the prism of next year's confrontation. The Guardian has already reported that Lions coach Warren Gatland regards these imminent jousts as more important than next year's Six Nations in terms of selection.

It's a view Robbie Deans probably has some time for: if this crew get the job done for him in arenas such as Twickenham and Millennium Stadium they will take a step towards a chance of securing their own Harrison moment. Of course, the flipside is also true. So much for the theory that Scott Higginbotham, only placed on standby yesterday, had dodged a bullet. It has quickly become clear what he has put at risk.

In that sense, the 30-man squad contained no surprises but was no less interesting for it. The chance of a bolter was slim, with one key selection philosophy established months ago by the omission of Ben Mowen. The Brumbies' captain was unlucky. His Super Rugby form was strong and his leadership impressive, but Deans was after a different model. He wants the Wallabies to play but is determined they first earn the right. Accordingly, those judged to have serious power and athleticism as part of their portfolio have had the advantage.

But if those on the outside looking in - the likes of Mowen, Joe Tomane, Cooper Vuna and even Rob Horne and Quade Cooper - now depend on strong Super campaigns to remind the coach of their abilities, there will also be some intriguing contests within the travelling party over the following weeks. Two, in particular, whet the appetite.

Michael Hooper's rise has been so fast that previously unthinkable scenarios, such as moving David Pocock to No.8 or introducing a job-sharing arrangement at openside, have been publicly entertained. Hooper has been remarkably prominent, but don't let Pocock fall victim to short memories. The man almost single-handedly won a World Cup quarter-final.

The first two Tests will be crucial. The tour can be split into two parts, with the challenges of France and England coming first, a fact that hurt Higginbotham's chances. If Pocock is not deemed ready, these will be the opportunities for Hooper to test himself against the tighter style of northern hemisphere play.

France will try to win the scrum and the collisions after it, before spreading it to the likes of the excellent Wesley Fofana.

England will do likewise. Theoretically, that sort of approach takes away of one Hooper's great strengths - his pace. The openside selection for the final Test, against Wales, might be the first clue as to how Deans sees the back row. There are no further Tests, no more auditions in the white-hot conditions that Super Rugby cannot replicate, before the opening Lions Test in Brisbane in June.

Another area of interest is the right-wing spot, where Drew Mitchell, Nick Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper have competing interests.

If we say that the coach and the unlucky Waratah haven't always seen eye to eye we probably don't understate it. But Deans keeps turning to him. His side is not scoring tries and Mitchell is a finisher. It may be two years ago but take a peek at a video of his try against the All Blacks in Hong Kong to remind yourself of his ability to hold width and depth and his straight-line speed.

Some of those named yesterday will probably be defined - for good or for bad - by what happens against the Lions in just eight months. They are unique occasions that captivate both hemispheres. For 30 lucky blokes yesterday, the journey there got a little shorter.

35 comments so far

  • Yeah thats all fine and dandy but the wobblies still have not earned anything solid or consistent in this wallaby fans mind. the deans era is coming to a close and he is still trying to work out how to coach an Australian team. The ARU obviously dont give a toss what there fans have been screaming at them to do and that is to FIRE Deans. ARU you dont exist without Wallaby fans like me DONT FORGET THAT.

    Commenter
    Salt
    Date and time
    October 26, 2012, 10:11AM
    • @ Salt
      What sort of a fan are you ? Really? I consider myself a fan but I certainly don't think I have the wherewithal when it comes to team selection, who the coach is or what strategy is in play. I realise that everyone is entitled to opinion but this must also have veracity.
      Therefore, I don't agree with your assertion that 'fans' want Robbie Deans fired and that the ARU wouldn't exist with-out 'fans' like you. Although, at times, I'm at odds with certain decisions that are made in regards to team selection et al I don't react by calling for the coaches head, etc.
      So please put- up or shut-up as to what the 'fans' want as far as YOU'RE concerned. If not, try to be constructive with your comments rather than being de-constructive.
      Alas, if your name were to appear, say in the Test Match program then I might take more notice but I think not, eh !

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      next door
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 12:58PM
    • Spot on Machooka. Well said. I think some blokes (eg. Salt) just like to get on media bandwagons, or repeat the "popular" view. It's so easy to be a mindless critic.
      I think the coach is doin' quite well thank you. Until last test against the Saffers we were 5-0 up in the previous 5 tests against them - and they are No.3 behind Aust. Why isn't that fact mentioned more often, but no, its all about "10 years of Bledisloe drought", and so on. I say use the vs. Saffer benchmark, especially when results against the ABs are hard to come by when they have a great side. But get our best side on the paddock and see how we go against ABs in 2013. Some optimism doesn't hurt Salt.

      Commenter
      PJ man
      Location
      NSW
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 5:12PM
  • Paul..Drew Mitchell used to have straight line speed before two major injuries (and over 24 months)...it is a waste of a position to have him in the squad..he will be playing in Japan in 12 months time as his best is well past him.....

    Commenter
    Reds are the champs
    Date and time
    October 26, 2012, 10:12AM
    • @ Reds are the champs (or used to be) - I agree with you completely re: Drew Mitchell.
      When fit, Shipperley, Tomane & Vuna are all better options than him.
      2 major injuries do it to you.
      I hope QC comes back better & stronger next season 'cause his talent is undeniable.

      Commenter
      World in Union
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 11:15AM
    • Reds are the champs, you are confused. It is not 2011 anymore. Even more confusing is your dislike of Drew Mitchell. Oh, hang on, he normally turns out in light blue - is that your problem? There's more to a good winger than speed, and Drew is a specialist - never caught out of position and a great finisher.

      My big concern is the buzz around Hooper/ Pocock. Deans already got rid of G Smith at least a year too early (he went on to be Heineken Cup's European player of the year). I think Pocock would be an even better player if he'd been mentored by Smith for another year. But credit to Pocock, he flourished anyway. Number 8 is an entirely different role. I only hope Pocock doesn't get played out of position - we would be weaker in both the 7 and 8 jumpers for it. Instead, he should be allowed to provide the mentoring he was denied for Hooper and Gill

      Commenter
      Omega
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 11:31AM
    • Omega; at least the reds were the champs at sometime...ever..and also they are still the champs of Australian Rugby (finished top of the aussie table from memory).....I am not confused about Drew.. .read the article...Paul was all excited about his straight line speed - which is now behind Drew....he was a decent winger but has lost his speed (think what you want but a winger without speed is pretty useless) and is looking like he is putting back on the beef which has always been a problem for him.....time will show you...in 12 months he will be eating sushi - full time...

      Commenter
      Reds are the champs - STILL
      Date and time
      October 28, 2012, 4:45AM
  • Robbie Deans is still Coach. That's the biggest problem for the Wallabies. At least Deans can't put the hopeless Quade Cooper in the team. It's no surprise the Wallabies play a lot better without him. With a half way reasonable Coach the Wallabies would be some chance in Europe. With Deans they will play, as usual, like headless chooks. Now the egomaniac John O'Neill is gone, it's time for Deans to join him.

    Commenter
    YoYo
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    October 26, 2012, 11:16AM
    • Perhaps you'd like to put your hand up as coach YoYo? You dish out the criticism constantly but have nothing else to add.

      Commenter
      World in Union
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      October 26, 2012, 12:50PM
  • One of my worries is the recent hype around Ben Tapuai at 13. While AAC may be able to play anywhere, he is EXCEPTIONAL at 13. In my opinion the best in the world. With him and Pat McCabe at 12 they make a world class centre pairing. A lot of commentary has been flying around that Tapuai had a great game against the Pumas in Rosario. I disagree. He made some incredibly glaring errors, including one which prevented a certain try when he hung on to the ball instead of offloading. Put AAC back in his best position and leave Tapuai on the bench.

    Commenter
    TF
    Date and time
    October 26, 2012, 12:49PM

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