Leadership suits Scott Higginbotham
May 27, 2013
Scott Higginbotham is in career-defining form © Getty Images
In a murky Super Rugby round for the Australian provincial teams, when try scoring dried up, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was at least provided with two important lessons.
Lesson No.1: If he doesn't select Scott Higginbotham ahead of Wycliff Palu in the Test back row to confront the British & Irish Lions, he is bonkers.
Lesson No.2: If he overlooks Nic White when he expands his Wallabies training squad before the first Test, he will further alienate the Australian rugby public and the provinces.
The Australian Rugby Union rejoiced on Monday that Palu had decided to remain with New South Wales Waratahs for another two years, but his selection in the 25-man Test squad to face the British & Irish Lions is more about past efforts than present form. Palu has been less than spectacular for the Waratahs this season, and that was reinforced when Higginbotham reigned supreme during the Rebels' triumph over New South Wales on Friday night. Higginbotham's boisterous performance at No.8 was instrumental in one of the major upsets of recent Super Rugby rounds.
As importantly, the Rebels' victory confirmed the province made a very smart move making Higginbotham captain, as he is a leader with punch and panache. Sometimes it is hard to work out who actually is captain of a team; but not with the Rebels, as Higginbotham is always centre of screen, reminding everyone, in particular the referee, who is the team's leader. And his large frame and imposing look helps. At the start of his career, Higginbotham was criticised for being inconsistent and sometimes disappearing in matches. That has certainly not been the case this season with the Rebels, and it appears the added responsibility following his move from Brisbane to Melbourne has matured and revitalised the man. So the trick when Deans brings him into the Wallabies fold is to give Australia's form No.8 more responsibility, and reap the benefit.
The Rebels made a rabble of the Waratahs (video available only in Australia)
Responsible selection also demands that White is brought into the Wallabies training squad. There were many surprised looks when Deans announced his squad, which included only one scrum-half in Will Genia. Deans then made it blatantly clear at the squad announcement that Luke Burgess was his preferred back-up half-back, even though he is not involved in Super Rugby and instead plays for Toulouse. Deans was long and effusive in his praise for Burgess. That's fine, but what was worrying was the fact there was someone who looked to have all the right credentials perched right under his nose.
The Brumbies weathered the storm in Auckland (video available only in Australia)
White has been producing for the Brumbies all season, boasting an impressive pass that enables his midfielders to attack the ball at pace, and a pugnacious attitude that includes an eagerness to take on everyone - all the credentials required at the top level. And surely there is no debate that White is not up to it after his exemplary effort against the Blues in Auckland, where he outplayed Piri Weepu in inhospitable conditions.
His initiative led to the Brumbies' only try, while his kicking game and performance under pressure at the breakdown in the wet was first class. This was all more than enough to justify White sitting on the bench for the first Lions Test. And as the controversy over Quade Cooper's omission see Deans a wanted man north of the Tweed, a decision to include White would at least calm his detractors in the nation's capital for at least a day or two.
And for those believing the Wallabies-Lions series will be a try fest, think again: the 2013 Six Nations try-scoring petered out after the opening round, and this year's Super Rugby tournament has hardly been a five-point carnivale. The Australian teams tallied just five tries between them in round 15, and five Super Rugby teams are averaging less than two tries per game (Western Force 1.5, Stormers 1.75, Southern Kings 1.83, Reds 1.85 and Sharks 1.92).
New Zealand teams are averaging 2.51 tries per game, ahead of Australia 2.25 and South Africa 2.08; at least one should feel encouraged that the team with the best try-scoring average (Chiefs, 3.07) is leading the competition.
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