Leali'ifano 'best Wallabies 12 since Tim Horan'
November 21, 2013
Christian Leali'ifano has size and skill, Scott Johnson says © Getty Images
Scotland coach Scott Johnson has dismissed the Wallabies backline woes by labelling Christian Leali'ifano a better No.12 than Matt Giteau.
Leali'ifano has languished on the bench for Australia's end-of-season European tour, but he will be thrust into the weekend Test against Scotland at Murrayfield after losing their entire three-quarter line. Matt Toomua was the latest Wallabies back ruled out of the Murrayfield clash when he was sent home late on Wednesday with a hamstring strain. Midfield partner Tevita Kuridrani is also out due to a five-week ban for his dangerous tip tackle in the 32-15 win over Ireland, while incumbent wingers Nick Cummins and Adam Ashley-Cooper have been stood down for late night drinking in Dublin last week.
The Wallabies' backline, to all intents and purposes, is in disarray. But not according to Johnson, the wily Australian coach missing three of his best backs - Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Matt Scott due to injury - and who has delayed naming his backline due to a fitness concern over winger Tommy Seymour.
Johnson, who served as Australia's attack coach in 2006 and 2007, said he would love to have a player of the quality of Leali'ifano as a back-up, describing him as the Wallabies' most complete inside centre since 80-Test great Tim Horan.
"I kept saying to my son before I came over here that this kid Christian Leali'ifano is going to be a special No.12 for Australia," Johnson said. "I haven't seen the likes of Leali'ifano in Australian rugby since probably Timmy.
"I think he possesses both the physical qualities as well as the skill set; Gits had the skill set but didn't have the physicality. Australia now has someone who can do something special."
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has lamented the tour-ending injury to Toomua, a revelation as a playmaking foil for Quade Cooper since replacing Leali'ifano for the past four Tests.
The loss of Kuridrani, whom McKenzie feels was treated harshly with a five-game ban, also means that Leali'ifano, Mike Harris, Chris Feauai-Sautia or Israel Folau will be forced to play out of position at No.13.
"Whoever they play there will be a skilful rugby player," Johnson said. "So the sad story ain't that sad here. I'll tell you disarray when I tell you the six I can't pick, that's disarray."
Johnson goes back a long way with McKenzie, and he helped the Wallabies coaching team during the 2001 British & Irish Lions series when McKenzie was forwards coach under Rod Macqueen.
He praised the Wallabies improvement after a 3-8 start to the year, but he would not judge McKenzie's controversial decision to stand down six players due to their late night out in Dublin last week. "Everyone's jobs are a lot easier until you have to do it," Johnson said. "That's their issue, and I have enough on my plate here."
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