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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Greg Growden writes ...
Well short of best Wallabies line-up
Greg Growden
October 17, 2013

Due to a withering list of injuries, poor form and lack of ability, Australia's selectors have been forced to introduce 12 new players to the Wallabies ranks this season. Of that large group, only Scott Fardy, Israel Folau and Ben Mowen can really say they have grasped Test football. The rest have been up and down, or just found to be out of their depth.

The latest beckoned into the Coliseum is Peter Betham, who at the start of this year was rated New South Wales Waratahs' fourth- or fifth-best winger. So it's a big call for Ewen McKenzie to select Betham for the Dunedin Test - but really what other options has the Wallabies coach got as the list of important players sidelined through ailments compares in height to Mt Kosciusko. Betham ready for Test football? Probably not. But as McKenzie says: "There is no better way to make your mark than by playing well against the All Blacks."

We are not talking about any old All Blacks side. The Wallabies are facing a phenomenal All Blacks unit, with a pretty reasonable back three in Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea. Adding to the menace is the revamped New Zealand midfield combination of Ben Smith, who would be vying with Kieran Read as the international player of the year, and Ma'a Nonu. If Betham can make his mark against this formidable opposition, then he certainly has made it.

Wingers Unavailable For The Wallabies

  • Digby Ioane: shoulder injury, signed with Paris club Stade Francais
  • James O'Connor: suspended for continued misdemeanours
  • Joe Tomane: hamstring injury
  • Nick Cummins: broken hand
  • Chris Feauai-Sautia: hamstring injury
  • Drew Mitchell: playing in France after signing with Toulon
  • Dom Shipperley: shoulder surgery
  • Lachie Turner: season wiped out by leg injuries
  • Henry Speight: ineligible, residency issues yet to be resolved
  • Rod Davies: knee reconstruction

Elsewhere, several Wallabies in crucial positions have to show they can actually make a mark. Wallabies outside centre Tevita Kuridrani, in particular, must pick up his act. He was lucky not to have been dropped after his flawed effort against the Pumas in Rosario. Having failed to make an impact when used off the bench in earlier Tests, when he appeared affected by pressure prompting his ball-handling skills to disintegrate, his defence against Argentina was lamentable; expect a cricket score if Kuridrani's attempted tackles are as sloppy against the All Blacks. Let's just say the All Blacks will be feeling very relaxed in sighting Kuridrani at No.13, rather than the ever-reliable Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has again been shifted out to the wing.

The Wallabies scrummaging performance improved against Argentina, but it has to happen right from the start of the match, and not when the reinforcements, in particular Benn Robinson, take the field later in the game. McKenzie is showing extraordinary faith in his tight-head prop Ben Alexander, who has struggled appreciably against numerous packs this year. If the Wallabies are to be any hope of just being competitive, Alexander has to properly anchor their scrum, and get the required support from his second row. It appears at times that the problem has come from behind Alexander, prompting him in one Test to lash out at his other forwards following another scrum collapse.

While this is well short of Australia's best line-up, there are some encouraging signs. Fardy's absence, after a man-of-the-match performance against the Pumas, is not welcomed, but at least the balance of the back-row looks right, with Ben McCalman moving into No.8 and Mowen on the side. Nonetheless my tip is All Blacks by 15 points.

Wallabies: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Peter Betham; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen; James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Replacements: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Nic White, Mike Harris, Bernard Foley.


Follow live text commentary of the Bledisloe Cup Test between New Zealand and Australia on Saturday, October 19 from 7pm (NZDT), 5pm (AEDT) and 6am (GMT)

Do we actually want a third Bledisloe Cup Test, and if so should it be staged earlier in the year?
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