Form or reputation best for Wallabies?
April 29, 2013
Many Brumbies are in contention but only Stephen Moore is assured of a starting spot, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
The tag of being the form player in your position doesn't mean you are destined for a Test spot. International coaches, like all others who carry a clipboard, have their favourites, know who to rely on in a crisis, and will downplay the feats of some if they have doubts whether the candidate has the mentality and poise to handle the top level.
That is why selecting the form XV of the Australian provinces at the moment involves no guarantees that it will be the line-up for the first Test of the British & Irish Lions series. There is an enormous leap between provincial and Test football, and those who dance at the second level often dither when an extra dollop of pressure is applied. So while the Brumbies currently dominate the form XV, it is not yet time for Canberrans to start organising tickets and bus trips for every Lions Test, in anticipation of knowing virtually everyone in the team.
When Test selections come around- the likes of Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper (who is looking so much better since Will Genia's return from injury), Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Dave Dennis, Digby Ioane, Kane Douglas and Sekope Kepu will be hovering - even if they are not currently the form player in their respective positions. Nonetheless the excellent performances of numerous Brumbies are putting pressure on the rest to get their act together - and quick.
A form XV at the moment could easily accommodate eight Brumbies. But hooker Stephen Moore is the only Test certainty of that contingent; the rest of the selections involve conjecture.
Jesse Mogg is clearly the form fullback, but it is still a gamble playing him against the Lions - unless the Wallabies adopt a game plan similar to the Brumbies' and play a relentless kicking game; if so Mogg is perfect, boasting a great clearing kick out of his half as well as cleverly using his attacking skills when the Brumbies are well away from their own try line. Still don't be surprised if either Beale or Adam Ashley-Cooper is instead the Test fullback.
Joe Tomane is a strong chance to take a wing spot, because Wallabies coach Robbie Deans likes him. But whether Deans opts for Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano, easily the most fluent of the Australian provincial 10-12 combinations,http://www.espnscrum.com/super-rugby-2013/rugby/player/91412.html as his Test inner backs is debatable. As the Lions are going to be big and combative, Deans is likely to go back to the man who has delivered for him in the past when he has called for a midfield battering ram: Pat McCabe. At least Brumbieites won't be upset about that preference.
Who would you select to face the British & Irish Lions? Leave a comment below to join the conversation. And keep logged onto ESPN scrum for news of the Lions squad announced on Tuesday, April 30.
James O'Connor was very good against the Crusaders in Super Rugby round 11 © Getty Images
James O'Connor has not been playing on the wing for the Rebels, but he has to be in the team somewhere because he is the best goalkicker. While Toomua has been the standout No. 10, it will still take more for him over the next month to be chosen ahead of either O'Connor, Beale or Cooper as the Test pivot. That sounds tough, but it's reality.
The Brumbies Test smokey could easily be their backrower Fotu Auelua, after being used successfully both starting and off the bench. His fearless, high-impact play is exactly what is required against the Lions. Remember Test selectors always like one left-field choice to upset the rhythm of the opposition, and Auelua could easily be that person.
While George Smith is the standout No. 7, there remain doubts whether he will be there; Deans likes Hooper and Liam Gill, and Smith being cleared for the Lions series still involves a few hurdles.
There is a concerted push for Ben Mowen to be in the Test team, but Scott Higginbotham, as he showed in Christchurch on Sunday, excels when the pressure is applied, and just nudges the Brumbies captain out of the No. 8 spot.
Conversely, the front-row is relatively simple: Dan Palmer, Moore and Benn Robinson keep doing the job, and Moore is by far the best lineout thrower going around. That's so important- as the Waratahs discovered in Pretoria on the weekend.
So if a Test team had to be picked today, these are the men the selectors would have to seriously consider.
The Form Team: Jesse Mogg (Brumbies); James O'Connor (Rebels), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), Joe Tomane (Brumbies); Matt Toomua (Brumbies), Will Genia (Reds); Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), George Smith (Brumbies), Fotu Auelua (Brumbies); James Horwill (Reds), Rob Simmons (Reds); Dan Palmer (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Benn Robinson (Waratahs). Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs), Scott Sio (Brumbies), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Liam Gill (Reds), Nic White (Brumbies), Pat McCabe (Brumbies), Israel Folau (Waratahs).
For a bit of fun, we'll update this Form XV week by week until the Lions arrive. Meanwhile, most importantly, who would you select to face the British & Irish Lions? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September