Wallabies hoping for injury-free win
September 30, 2011
Radike Samo scored a try after being switched to the wing in last week's win over the US © Getty Images
It's fair to say that Rugby World Cup 2011 has not gone quite according to plan for the Wallabies so far. Few would have anticipated that they would be going into this weekend's clash with Russia with little chance of winning their pool. Few still would have envisaged that Radike Samo would be starting on the wing against the Bears!
But this is the rather bizarre position that the Wallabies find themselves in. They came into the tournament as the form side in world rugby having defeated the All Blacks in Brisbane to win the Tri-Nations and opened their campaign with a victory over Italy which was achieved with a scintillating second-half display. However, it was at this point that things started to go wrong.
First, David Pocock was forced to withdraw from the starting line-up to face their principal rivals for first place in the pool, Ireland. Whether the Wallabies would have avoided a sensational defeat by Declan Kidney's side had their star forward been on the field is open to debate but what was beyond dispute was the fact that the Irish proved on an already famous night in Wellington that the Australian scrum remains horribly vulnerable and that their attack is not all it's cracked up to be.
The Aussies bounced back from that shock loss with a predictably facile victory over the USA but that victory came at a terrible price as Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Wycliff Palu, Anthony Faingaa, Kurtley Beale all picked up injuries which saw them join existing absentees Scott Higginbotham, Pocock, James O'Connor and Digby Ioane in the treatment room. As things stand, only Palu has been forced to go home but the Wallabies are down to the proverbial bare bones - hence Samo's selection on the right wing for this weekend's game.
In truth, against a Russian side that has lost all three of its pool games to date, the Aussies are unlikely to be unduly inconvenienced by the unavailability of so many top players. And there has even been a suggestion that some of the injuries might prove a blessing in disguise given that the likes of Berrick Barnes have already made the most of unexpected call-ups to the first team. That may or not be the case. We shall see. For now, though, Wallabies boss Robbie Deans will just be hoping that Australia can pick up a win on Saturday and, most importantly, do so without suffering any more injuries, what with the Springboks looming large on the horizon.
Australia - Player to Watch: Who else but Radike Samo? The imposing back-row with the coolest hair in rugby has been selected on the right wing and all eyes will be on him on Saturday. The 35-year-old Samo certainly still has the pace to cause the Bears all sorts of problems - witness his stunning try against the All Blacks in Brisbane last month - and he's not in unfamiliar territory, having started out as a winger many, many years ago.
Australia - Team News: David Pocock returns at openside flanker after missing games against Ireland and the USA with a back injury. Ben McCalman returns to No.8 after having deputised for Pocock at openside and Scott Higginbotham gets the nod at blindside, with Rocky Elsom named on the bench. James Horwill will lead the side once again from the second-row where he is partnered by veteran Nathan Sharpe. Elsewhere, hooker Stephen Moore returns after illness sidelined him against Ireland. Fly-half Quade Cooper retains his spot with Luke Burgess named at No.9 while Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper form a new centre duo with James O'Connor at fullback and Drew Mitchell continuing on the left wing.
Russia - Player to Watch: Vasily Artemyev is essentially a winger by trade but he was utilised at fullback against Ireland and helped himself to a nicely-taken try. The Northampton-bound back looks a real talent and will be out to catch the eye once more.
Russia - Team News: The side shows six changes to the side crushed 62-12 by Ireland in their last outing with centre Alexey Makovetskiy, fly-half Yury Kushnarev, flanker Vyacheslav Grachev, lock Alexander Voytov, prop Ivan Prishchepenko and hooker Vladislav Korshunov all named for the Trafalgar Park fixture. Sergei Trishin, Konstantin Rachkov, Andrey Garbuzov, Denis Antonov, Alexander Khrokin and the suspended Valery Tsnobiladze miss out out, although Garbuzov and Rachkov are retained amongst the replacements.
Key Battle: With Pocock back at openside flanker, the Wallabies should run riot at the breakdown against a Russian pack that has been struggled to secure regular quality ball for a back-line which has, at times, looked pretty dangerous.
Stats: Adam Ashley-Cooper has scored four tries in his three RWC2011 appearances to date
Trivia: Russia need to score four points to ensure that they do not ended up as the tournament's lowest points scorers.
"He's a remarkable athlete. He's 35 I understand, he can still run fast and he's got a skill set that will be useful in the wide channels as well as in the middle."
""We will not appear on the pitch just to watch the Wallabies play but will try to demonstrate what we are capable of as well. This game can be a step forward on our way to progress."
Prediction: The Wallabies have been decimated by injuries but they will have little trouble racking uup a big score against a game but desperately limited Russian side.
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