Wallabies selections for Scotland Test
Luke Morahan of the Queensland Reds. Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
Just under 12 months ago, as the Wallabies prepared for their opening Test of the year against Samoa, our 1991 World Cup winning team held a 20-year reunion. Among the crowd was Tim Gavin, an outstanding number 8 and an unlucky absentee from the '91 squad due to an ill-timed knee injury.
As Tim scanned the match program he observed that all but a few of the Samoans were full-time professionals. Turning to the Samoan fan beside him, he commented that professional rugby players must be Samoa's number one export. The Samoan agreed, adding: “Actually, rugby players and nightclub bouncers.”
Over the following 80 minutes the Wallabies were out-muscled, outplayed and out-scored as the Samoans ensured that not many of their countrymen would be manning doors that evening. If ever you were contemplating playing up at a Sydney nightclub, that may have been your best opportunity.
That shock Samoan victory was the grandest in their history and provided timely insights for the Wallabies' most imminent challenge, this week's Tests against Scotland and the Six Nations champions, Wales.
If anything, the preparations for tomorrow's Test against Scotland are even more compacted than last year's, when the squad had almost a week together after the Reds' Super Rugby championship victory.
Fortunately, Robbie Deans has enjoyed the luxury this year of both the Reds and the Western Force having Super Rugby byes this past weekend. Their players fill nine of
the 15 starting positions.
While Deans and co remained focused on Scotland, the weekend marked 12 months until the opening match of the British and Irish Lions' Australian tour. In rugby terms, the Lions are as big asHalley's comet, and visit Australia only slightly less frequently. They will contest a three-Test series and play each of Australia's five Super Rugby teams as well as a combined NSW-Queensland Country outfit.
The tour will be the biggest rugby event in Australia since the 2003 World Cup, so this year's preparation will be crucial.
The Wallabies haven't been as vulnerable for an opening Test of a season since 2001 when they met the Lions at the Gabba, a night which still conjures sore memories.
One of the traps lies in the strength and preparedness of the opposition, and not everyone acknowledges the depth of this week's challenge. For a long time there has been an antipodean ignorance of the strength of northern hemisphere rugby.
Winning streaks and lack of exposure have contributed to this – it took a historic breakthrough in Edinburgh in 2009 for Scotland to end 27 years and 16 internationals without a victory against Australia.
The Wallabies can be sure that the visitors will be typically Scottish, scrapping to the last to defend theHopetoun Cup in Newcastle tomorrow evening.
If the Wallabies are to be successful over the next three weeks – and that is no certainty as they are confronted by fit, skilful and motivated opposition – then they must get two key things right from the outset: selection and cohesion.
With selection, the same 15 players will not get four results in three weeks, so picking the team on form, fitness and with a view to balance is crucial. The selections of Luke Morahan, Joseph Tomane and Dan Palmer show that youth will have its place, yet it will be balanced with experienced campaigners like Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore.
These old-timers will ensure that enthusiasm and nerves are paired with focus and attention to detail.
This can counter the Scots as they will vigorously feed off scraps and errors, with each mistake compounding the pressure.
That's where cohesion comes to the fore. Assembling a team with abbreviated preparation time dictates that there will be chaos at times. This is inevitable. The Wallabies' short-term success will be determined by their ability to turn chaos into confidence, and that will have a lot to do with their new Test captain, David Pocock.
In the absence of injured skipper James Horwill, Pocock's elevation is understandable and deserved. He will require much support however from halfback Will Genia, who was also a viable candidate for the captaincy.
While it may be Pocock who lays down the law, it will be Genia who enforces it, particularly in the forwards, as a good halfback is the eyes, ears and conscience of the pack. And a strong performance from the pack tomorrow evening will go a long way to ensuring there is no repeat of last year's bouncing.