Wallabies have balanced look for Ireland Test
November 15, 2013
Tatafu Polota-Nau's selection on the bench is the key change, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
Greg Growden tells Russell Barwick the Ireland Test is 'crucial' for Australia
The Wallabies have been hidden away in the southern suburbs of Dublin, far enough from the infamous Temple Bar to avoid distractions, altercations and the legendary Irish hospitality. Many more formidable Australian teams have been caught up in that sticky Irish fly trap. For the second week in a row, they have also been keeping their mouths shut, avoiding the dumb statements that made their puerile performance against England even more lamentable.
So far so good.
Now it appears that Wallabies tour selectors are getting the balance right in their squad for the Ireland Test - doing the bleeding obvious by resting Ben Alexander, and bringing back Scott Fardy as soon as he was again fit.
Still, the most important selection is on the bench. At last, Tatafu Polota-Nau is back. Finally there will be a revival of one of the best tag-team operations in world rugby.
Former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans got it right when he shared the hooking responsibilities between Polota-Nau and Stephen Moore. Polota-Nau gave the required impact in the early stages of the game by being a first-half kamikaze, chopping down opponents with his fearless around-the-bootstraps tackling style, making several midfield attacking bursts, and being a genuine all-round nuisance. Even the All Blacks, who give off the aura of being scared of no-one, fear Polota-Nau.
Then Moore would come on in the second half to settle it all down; from two considerably different parts came a satisfactory whole.
Sekope Kepu is another key inclusion © Getty Images
However, due to injury, Polota-Nau has been unavailable for Test duties this season until now; and through that, Moore has been forced to become the team's workhorse. Back-up hooker Saia Faingaa is no Polota-Nau, and so the load has intensified enormously for Moore, who has week in week out been forced to play virtually the whole game.
Moore has handled this role with aplomb, to the extent that he has been Australia's most consistent player this season. Sure, Michael Hooper and Israel Folau have been getting the headlines, but they have tapered off at times. Not Moore. But there is only so much the body can take, and Moore, on the quiet, is probably relieved Polota-Nau is at last back to take over some of the workload.
Polota-Nau, also a formidable scrummager, will get ample time against Ireland; so too, hopefully, Liam Gill. Hooper's commitment cannot be faulted, but his openside flanking performances are starting to lack an edge; and so it is time for the No,7s to share the load, as in the days of George Smith and Phil Waugh. Gill's limited game time this season has been puzzling.
Wise use of the bench is crucial. Deans sometimes fumbled that, appearing to have a sheet of paper in front of him that told him what time a certain player had to come on. McKenzie will hopefully be better in that area. This is the weekend to find out as, for a change, the Australian Test bench looks reasonable rather than a collection of out-of-form lost souls.
The starting XV is not too bad, either, with McKenzie trying to bring consistency to his backline while tinkering in the right places up front by replacing tight-head Alexander, who has been struggling for some time, with Sekope Kepu. Rob Simmons got some overblown praise for his performance at blindside flanker against Italy, but the back five looks far more balanced with him returning to the second-row and Fardy back at No.6.
They may even be able to shake up Ireland. Just as long as they stay away from Temple Bar.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden
Last year's thrashing at the hands of Wales was not the first time England have fallen to their rivals. Scrum Sevens looks at whether they have bounced back the following year
With just two rounds left in the 2014 championship, the intensity cranks up a notch at Twickenham. Tom Hamilton previews the weekend's action
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry
Are the margins between the teams in the Six Nations getting smaller year-on-year? Huw Richards gives some answers