McKenzie should be applauded for form-based squad
June 3, 2014
Brumbies lock Sam Carter will make his Wallabies debut against France © Getty Images
It is rousing to see a Test coach pick his team primarily on form rather than reputation. And in most cases, Ewen McKenzie has opted for that philosophy when selecting what is overall an encouraging line-up for the France Test on Saturday.
There are some minor quibbles, including that Will Skelton is not in the Test squad, Adam Ashley-Centre not in the centres and Rob Horne not on the wing, but overall the Wallabies coach has selected a logical 23-man contingent.
It is clear McKenzie has taken close note of player form in recent Super Rugby matches. Until a month ago, Bernard Foley was struggling as the New South Wales Waratahs No. 10; often at times getting swamped and lacking authority. But the past few weeks, he has been the standout pivot in the Australian conference, and with McKenzie making it clear that he looks at Matt Toomua as an inside centre, Foley deserves the chance. A month ago, Foley was hesitant. Now he is confident and willing to take everyone on … a big difference.
The biggest surprise is that Will Genia, not that long ago adjudged the best scrumhalf in international rugby, cannot even make the squad. Genia's season with the Queensland Reds has been all over the place - starting reasonably well, falling away but then performing at his best last weekend against the Highlanders.
Yet this season, Nic White has consistently performed at a higher level to Genia. So White's selection is again justified, even though Genia did at least deserve a spot on the reserves bench.
All White has to do is temper his behaviour on the field, because he often unnecessarily plays the "angry ant" role, which is bound to antagonize referees. And no team wants their scrumhalf in the sin bin for sheer stupidity.
Sam Carter, the Brumbies newcomer, must have been delighted that McKenzie travelled to Canberra last weekend for the Rebels match, because it coincided with his best performance of the year. Until that game, Luke Jones was ahead of Carter and James Horwill in the lock pecking order, while Rob Simmons saved himself with his best 2014 performance against the Highlanders. Again McKenzie deserves praise for trying someone new in this area, because on form an anticipated Horwill-Simmons combination could not be justified.
As for Stephen Moore being appointed the new Wallabies captain, this has a lot to do with him being such a similar character to his coach. Like McKenzie, Moore is a serious, often understated beast. He is a no fuss man, who has high standards, and gets irritated by those who flaunt their opportunities or take advantage of their position in the team. Under Moore, the Wallabies will be a no-nonsense, iron-fist outfit. Beware anyone who strays.
Moore will go well as skipper, but there will still be a lot of pressure on how his deputies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Michael Hooper handle the big moments. With Moore expected to share game time with Tatafu Polota-Nau, enormous decisions at end of Tests will be the responsibility of either Ashley-Cooper or Hooper… or both. What they decide could easily determine the Wallabies win/loss record this season.
One has a feeling that both Ashley-Cooper and Hooper will be fronting after-match media conferences this season, possibly as much as Moore, to explain their decisions.
Australia: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins; Bernard Foley, Nic White; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy; Sam Carter, Rob Simmons; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (captain), James Slipper. Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan, Paddy Ryan, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe.
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