Genia dropped and Horwill to the bench: McKenzie gets it right again

Ewen McKenzie has named the Australian team for the first test against France at Lang Park this Saturday night. The team is:

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 (c), James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan, Paddy Ryan, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe

Obviously the biggest move by Coach McKenzie is the dropping of Will Genia, not just from the team but also the bench. This is a massive step, given the Genia has not been out of the team when available since 2010, for McKenzie and, frankly, is the correct one. Aside from an inspiring performance in the 100th Queensland game last Saturday Genia has been in terrible form this season. Based on form he simply could not be selected. Nic White, conversely, has been in excellent form and deserves his run on spot.

James Horwill has been selected on the bench as the locks to run on are Carter and Simmons. This, again, is the correct move in my view: the Reds back row has been smashed this year whilst at line out time, last week aside, Horwill and Simmons had been less than impressive. I am not sure about Rob Simmons at test match level to be honest: I find him to be too ill disciplined for my liking so will be interested to see how he goes in this game.

This is a team that is, obviously, selected on form and for that McKenzie must be saluted. He is making his mark on the team on the field with these selection decisions as well as off the field with his leadership team selection. Now all he needs is results on the field to lock down his position at the top of rugby in this country.

Rugby: The Wallabies Captaincy Conundrum

In the aftermath of the departure of Ben Mowen from Australian rugby (let’s face it the quicker the ARU jettison him from anything to do with the Wallabies the better), a massive question that remains is that of who will be the captain of the Wallabies come the first test of 2014 on 7 June against France.

Looking into the crystal ball for a moment, that team that runs out onto Lang Park on 7 June could well include three former captains in its ranks in the form of James Horwill, Will Genia and David Pocock.  One suspects that the leader of the team out onto the park on that day will be one of those three men.

Before anointing one of those men as captain of the Wallabies it is important though to closely consider the claims of Quade Cooper to the highest office in Australian rugby.  When Ewan McKenzie named Cooper as the team’s vice captain during the European tour there were many a curled eyebrow and social media was replete with negativity from those who sit firmly in the “anti-Cooper camp”.  Coach McKenzie though has been overt in his praise for Cooper, particularly regarding his ability to play out a game plan and it has been broadly reported that those in power at the ARU consider him a full time captain of the future.

An important word in that last sentence is the future.  Quade Cooper has only been the vice captain of the Wallabies for a handful of test matches and only made his captaincy debut for Queensland in a tour match against the British and Irish Lions this last winter.  It can not be forgotten that it is not twelve months since Cooper was firmly on the outer with the Wallabies set up and it is not twenty-four months since he was describing the culture of the team as “toxic”.  There is another consideration here: how the appointment of Cooper would likely play out with the fans.  He is a dividing figure among Wallabies fans and now, possible more than even, a captain who will unite all fans behind the team is what is required.

I would keep Cooper as the vice captain behind whoever is tapped on the shoulder to take on the Wallabies captaincy.

That leads us back to the choice of the original three as captain: who of Genia, Horwill or Pocock should run out at the front of team on 7 June? Each of Genia, Horwill or Pocock have strong competing claims to be returned to their former role as captain of the team.

James Horwill is the long time captain of Queensland and has lead that team through a period of resurgence under the stewardship of Ewen McKenzie.  It must be pointed out that Horwill has spent a lot of time out of the team due to injury and much of the time during which Queensland’s resurgence has taken place has been whilst he has been sitting on the pine.  On the positive side of things McKenzie and Horwill obviously work very well together.

Will Genia is the long time vice captain of Queensland and has taken on the role of captain on each occasion at which James Horwill has been out of action with injury.  He has also taken on the same role at the Wallabies level when Horwill has been injured in the past.  He is the team’s scrum half and some of Australia’s greatest captains have been scrum halves in the past.  A large question mark though hangs over Genia and that is what his form will be like come 7 June: his position as the permanent number 9 in the team has been under threat from others through the Super ranks (Nic White being the main candidate).

David Pocock has been out for a long time with injury and is enjoying, apparently, his first full pre-season of training since 2007.  There is a significant road block in the path of his immediate return to the team in the form of Michael Hooper who has taken the number 7 jersey in Pocock’s absence and (despite the valid claims of Liam Gill) made it is his own.  A big pointer to whether Pocock is in the frame to be Wallabies captain may well be whether he is names as the Brumbies captain for the 2014 Super Rugby campaign.  He is a leader of men and, pre-injury, was a clear second in the race for the best player in the world behind some bloke called McCaw.

Taking each of these claims into consideration, who comes out on top? I think one of the principal things to consider is which of these players is going to play the most minutes.  If he is in the team that person seems to most likely to be Genia but there is a question mark, for mine, as to whether he will be in the team. Horwill is injury prone and could only be considered if he played every game of the Super 15 before the first team.  Similarly Pocock could only be considered if his return from injury saw him return to his old form and he played every game of Super 15.

All of that leaves me with no clear answer other than to say that the Wallabies captain will come from one of those three players AND that their form in Super 15 rugby will be determinative of who ultimately named captain. I, for one, will be watching with keen interest each players’ performances.


Mowen Factor: in search of a better performance and a win

Much has been made during the week in rugby circles of the dropping of Will Genia and the elevation of Ben Mowan to the captaincy of the Australian team.


First things first: Genia had to be dropped. He has been in ordinary form since (indeed during) the Lions tour and only the frailty of Australia's fly halfs and forwards has saved him from scrutiny he otherwise would have faced. Nic White has earned his chance.


Onto Mowen: it has been obvious to all keen watchers of Super Rugby that Ben Mowen was a captain of the Wallabies of the future. I just don't think anyone expected his elevation to come so soon. Having seen his exemplary work at the helm of the Brumbies and noting that he is leading a team replete with his Brumbies team mates, I have no doubt he will do a fine job.


As a Wallabies fan I want to see a win tonight. It is that simple. Equally, I remember the sour feeling left with me having watched the Wallabies scrape to a win against the Pumas on the Gold Coast last year so the other thing I want to see from the Wallabies is a vastly improved performance as well. It is not good enough, in my unlearned opinion, for the Wallabies to scrape over the line here because that will still be considered a loss in some quarters. So, for me, the win is important but equally as important is the performance.


A final word: I wrote earlier in the week about giving Ewen McKenzie a break from the rhetoric and my view in that has not changed. Indeed, I have probably moved even further along the spectrum to the view that I am comfortable with Australia coming third in the Rugby Championship because this is an obvious rebuilding phase in the post Deans era. South Africa and New Zealand are ahead of us at the moment and that, as hard as it is to say, is ok because I have faith that McKenzie can turn us around given time.


With one eye on tonight and one on the future: I can not wait for kick off and seeing Ben Mowen lead Australia into battle.