Wallabies primed for Baa-Baas clash
November 24, 2011
James O'Connor will be hoping to shine at Twickenham on Saturday after being entrusted the Wallabies No.10 jersey © Getty Images
Australia take their first step on the long road to Rugby World Cup 2015 when they take on the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday in what should be a thoroughly enjoyable encounter for the neutral.
The Wallabies are still trying to decide what to make of their efforts in this year's tournament in New Zealand, a tournament in which they suffered a shock defeat by Ireland before then somehow managing to scrape past the Springboks in the quarter-finals only to be thoroughly outclassed by the All Blacks in the last four.
Robbie Deans remains at the helm despite some calls for him to be removed from his position as head coach so it is up to the Kiwi to work out why a side which looked so confident and assured during a successful Tri-Nations campaign suddenly lost its way.
The Aussies will certainly be looking to rediscover some of the swagger they displayed in the Tri-Nations and should have little trouble doing that against the Barbarians, who, pleasingly, continue to attach more importance to free-flowing rugby than results.
In saying that, the Wallabies will be very wary of a Baa-Baas line-up featuring players of the calibre of Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Isaia Toeava and Jerome Kaino, among others.
Australia - Player to Watch: It has to be James O'Connor, who will start at fly-half in the absence of the injured Quade Coooper. Berrick Barnes had been the favourite to take over at No.10 but it is O'Connor who has been entrusted with the playmaking duties and how he fares will be intriguing - given that he has gone on record saying that his preferred position would be inside centre.
Australia - Team News: The side shows three changes in personnel from the side which ended the World Cup on a high by beating Wales in the Bronze Final. There is only one new face in the pack as Rob Simmons comes into the second row in place of captain James Horwill, who has been dropped to the bench. Flanker David Pocock will act as skipper. In the backs, meanwhile, the redeployment of O'Connor creates an opening for Lachie Turner on the right wing. Rob Horne returns in midfield and that sees Adam Ashley-Cooper switch to fullback to fill the void left by Kurtley Beale.
Barbarians - Player to Watch: Rugby League star Sam Tomkins has caused a real stir by accepting an audacious invite from the Barbarians to play in this game. The 22-year-old Wigan ace says he is "as raw as you can get" in terms of his familiarity with the 15-man game and insists that he has no imminent plans to switch codes. However, you can be certain that there will be a number of union clubs watching his performance with real interest.
Barbarians - Team News: Legendary Springbok lock Victor Matfield will captain a side brimming with world class talent. The back-row combination of Jerome Kaino, Mauro Bergamasco and Adam Thomson looks particularly formidable, while it will be fascinating to see what veteran Australian centre Stirling Mortlock, who will partner Robbie Fruean in midfield, has left in the tank. The same goes for Irish scrum-half Peter Stringer. Winger Bryan Habana, meanwhile, will be hoping to end a disappointing year at international level on a high.
Key Battle: This is a big game for O'Connor but it is an even bigger one for his opposite number, Danny Cipriani, who is intent on proving that he remains one of the most gifted English playmakers around. Cipriani will have been buoyed by the resignation of Martin Johnson as England team manager and will now be hoping that a stellar showing at Twickenham will pave the way for an international recall.
Trivia: The Baa-Baas first played Australia all the way back in 1948, and defeat the Wallabies 9-6
Stats: Ireland's Tony O'Reilly scored a record 38 tries in 30 appearances for the Baa-Baas
"We just felt this was a good opportunity, both to lessen the load on James, while also giving David the chance to gain experience captaining the side."
"I have a long-term goal to be in the squad and become first choice 10 for 2015. I truly believe I'm in a place where I can do that if I focus on my game."
Prediction: The Baa-Baas have assembled a strong squad but the Wallabies have named a near full-strength team and should have enough class to see off for the invitational outfit
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring