Ewen McKenzie hails all-round hero Liam Gill
March 2, 2013
Liam Gill produced a Test-class performance for Queensland against the Hurricanes © Getty Images
Ewen McKenzie has long been a George Smith fan, but talk of a fairytale Wallabies comeback against the British & Irish Lions doesn't wash with the Queensland Reds head coach. When his own outstanding openside flanker, Liam Gill, is rated third in the pecking order for Australia's No. 7 jersey, McKenzie sees an embarrassment of riches that requires no further addition.
Gill's standout performance in the Reds' scrappy 18-12 Super Rugby win over the Hurricanes highlighted his superb 2013 form and issued a compelling case for Wallabies inclusion. He did everything against the Hurricanes, racking up Queensland's most running metres, making 12 tackles, forcing steals and penalties at the breakdown, and chiming in at the lineout. And Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett singled out Gill, 20, for his tireless work at the ruck, which he said was a crucial factor in the result at Suncorp Stadium.
Smith will return to Super Rugby for the Brumbies against New South Wales in round four, prompting calls for him to add to his 110 Test caps against the Lions in June. McKenzie is bemused that Gill is largely ignored as a backrow contender given the debate about the ability of David Pocock and Michael Hooper to start in the same team.
"He's the forgotten amigo isn't he," McKenzie said of Liam Gill. "There's three of them, and he's the forgotten one. I think he is an outstanding player, he is in the game in so many different ways." Gill played eight Tests off the bench in 2012, behind Hooper while Pocock was injured, but McKenzie wouldn't swap him for anyone, saying Gill is most like Smith as the consummate all-rounder whereas Pocock is an amazing ruck warrior and Hooper is a speedy attacking threat.
"He has lots of skills and makes contributions, including winning lineouts for us, attack, defence, getting on the ball, taking the ball forward," McKenzie said. "He is a very slippery player carrying the ball in close. It's not wide channel running, it's in close-in hard work and hard yards. He is doing exactly what we expect him to do so there's no surprises in the Reds camp but hopefully it's going to count for something down the track."
Rob Simmons was another fringe Wallabies forward to shine against the Hurricanes, scoring his first try in 51 games for Queensland to finally end the banter he cops from team-mates. "As much as I'm happy for him there was a little bit inside me that was a bit disappointed," Reds captain James Slipper said.
The defiant Rebels denied the forceful Hurricanes