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It's a brave Wallabies fan who scoffs at Scotland


John Eales

Luke Morahan of the Queensland Reds. Click for more photos

Wallabies selections for Scotland Test

The Wallabies team selection for the 2012 international series were announced today. With five new names on the sheet, the Wallabies start their domestic schedule against Scotland, in Newcastle, on Tuesday night before a three test series against Six Nations Champions, Wales, later in June. 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.

13 comments so far

  • Should be a great game John, so why isn't it being shown on free to air until 11:47pm on Tuesday?? Perhaps you can ask your colleagues for me at the ARU?

    Date and time
    June 04, 2012, 2:21PM
    • The ARU desperately tried to get the game shown on Gem with Ch9 but the response from Canberra was they didn't have enough time to complete the paperwork for anti-siphoning provisions...basically it was a cock-up all round. Of all the channels to give the game to Ch9 would seem the worst...the ABC would be best option for me...

      Date and time
      June 05, 2012, 8:28AM
    • @ Phil, Les and Biggs
      I wonder whether Ch.9 paid the price for the FTA rights that the ARU thought reasonable (?) so as to simply 'shelve it', so to speak, as to protect their other valuable product NRL? Wouldn't be the first time this sort of thing has happened.
      Very valid and pertinent question to you Mr.Eales by @ Phil.
      A perfect opportunity for reply, especially as you column is a vehicle here for other comment. Go on, give us all a surprise and a little faith that our game is in good hands!
      Great and positive idea about posting comment on Wallabies facebook page.

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      June 05, 2012, 11:48AM
    • Channel 9 make no effort to push rugby. I'm sure if it was an unscheduled game of mungo they would have found a place. It seems clear to me that 9 bought the rights to not show games or broadcast them badly e.g. RWC last year.

      Give it to SBS or ABC. They might not pay the $ but at least the game will be on free to air.

      Date and time
      June 05, 2012, 5:45PM
  • Hear hear Phil. Is it too late to take the rugby coverage off channel 9? ARU have lost the plot awarding rugby coverage to the main pusher of league. Just another demonstration of the parlous state of rugby administration in this country (not just in NSW).

    I wonder if John O'Niell ran the State Bank in the same way? Perhaps that's why that venerable institution is no longer with us?

    Date and time
    June 04, 2012, 9:46PM
    • Agree, ABC would do a great job.
      Suggest anyone who feels like me should leave a comment on the Wallabies facebook page. There's already quite a lot of comments there about this.

      Date and time
      June 05, 2012, 9:33AM
      • Where's Spiro now and his comments about the strength of the Australian conference? I see allblacks and springboks making sweeping changes to personel too, will be interesting to watch...

        Date and time
        June 06, 2012, 3:39PM
        • saving you a column this week - Lots of good commentary in Oz today and has raised very good questions about the state of Australian rugby and the coaching set up - neither shown in a particularly good light last night:

          1. Wet and wild night determined keeping it tight as a basic game plan - when the Scottish defence stood up so well, who should have modified the plan?
          Plan B should have been prepared by the coach in advance; captain and experienced on field players should have known when and how to adapt; rush defence should have been turned around by short kicks in behind (especially in the second half) but neither Genia nor Barnes had the nous to do it (Genia stopped kicking after attempting a box kick into the gale in the first 10 mins - stupid). The Scots struggled to throw a straight line out in the second half so why weren't they pinned into their 22 with cross field kicks for wingers to run onto or seeking touch?

          out west
          Date and time
          June 06, 2012, 4:31PM
          • 2. Deans knows all about wet weather play but most of the wallabies don't. Did he rely too much on having experienced, thinking players who would adapt as the game went on? Certainly his Crusaders team would have played with more variety and given Scotland a much harder time last night - McCaw and Carter would have been thinking during the game and made the necessary plan changes; Pocock and Barnes don't appear to have that ability.

            3. Was concerned beforehand that Pocock, when asked how he was going to lead the team, replied that he was simply going to lead by on field deeds - doesn't suggest the on field general type of a Gregan or any of the other long serving, successful captains around the world.

            4. Why did Deans not use his bench? On a night when some of the guys looked like they needed a good space blanket, why didn't he put on fresh blood with 20 to go - Phipps, McCabe and AAC should all have been utilised for 1/4 of the game on such a cold night.

            Yes it was a full test; yes it counts in world rankings; yes Scotland deserved their win - I never disputed any of that: J O'N seeking money - probably; ABs done better in same circumstances - absolutely. NZ is the benchmark and all others should aspire. Wallabies aspire but fell woefully short!!

            Well done Scotland - hope you can build on that

            out west
            Date and time
            June 06, 2012, 4:33PM
            • John Eales in the column above is correct in his assumption that "Wallaby fans should never scoff at Scotland" (penned prior to the game proper) as sadly there are far too many "true Blues" who consider the Wallabies unbeatable each time they run out and most give scant respect to the opposition.

              The general consensus appears to be that the Wallabies should, 'win each time', but the simple fact is that very little respect is given to the teams they play as you hear the crap statements when the Home team gets beaten, like: "the boilover of the century", "what an emarrassment" and it goes on!!

              That sort of carry on is disrespectful and no obvious credit has been given to the opposing team that won by playing better than they did!!

              What Australian supporters should realise is that rugby in this country is not strong and is at the moment unbelievably weak mainly due to the lack of development necessary for improvement and future succession to the International playing stocks, just look at all the imports in all the Super teams and the Wallaby squad, these are the players who are deemed appropriate to 'see the squads through', but it doesn't always happen as a lot of these 'imports' are just 'hacks' from countries where they would never make the National team!

              Being second in the International rankings the Wallabies should win on a regular basis, a la the All Blacks but they don't, and these days rarely win at all, the World Cup was a disaster as getting third, is akin to "kissing your Sister" it counts for nothing.

              It has always bemused me as to how the Wallabies ever got to second and held it for so long as they don't deserve it.

              Date and time
              June 07, 2012, 10:29AM

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