Wallabies make 5 changes for Springboks encounter

Ewen McKenzie has made 5 changes to the Wallabies lineup to face the Springboks at Pattersons Stadium on Saturday.  The team is:

Slipper, Hanson, Kepu, Carter, Simmons, Fardy, Hooper (c), Palu, Phipps, Foley, Horne, Toomua, Kuridrani, Ashley- Cooper, Folau

Bench: Fainga’a, Cowan, Alexander, Horwill, Higginbotham, Hodgson, White, Beale

Two of the changes are injury enforced with Kuridrani coming in for McCabe and Hanson in for Charles.  The Kurtley Beale experiment at number 10 has come to an end with Bernard Foley replacing him and Nick Phipps comes in at halfback in place of Nic White.  Both Beale and White are on the bench.

There are no other changes to the forward pack, which frankly is a surprise given our poorly the forwards played against the All Blacks a fortnight ago.  On the bench Will Skelton has been left out with james Horwill replacing him.


Bledisloe 2: Australian team named

Ewen McKenzie has named an unchanged line up for the second Bledisloe Cup match to be played this weekend at Eden Park.

The team is:

Israel Folau, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne, Kurtley Beale, Nic White, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (c), Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Nathan Charles, James Slipper. Replacements: James Hanson, Pek Cowan, Ben Alexander, Will Skelton, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani.

The All Blacks are likely to name their line up tomorrow.

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.

Stephen Moore: Absolutely the right choice to lead the Wallabies

Stephen Moore was announced as the new captain of Wallabies yesterday. Among a poultice of candidates Moore has been selected, based on his own and the coach’s comments, in no small part due to his strong views on player culture and behaviour.  One only needs to run one’s eye over the other candidates to affirm why this choice was absolutely the correct one:

  • James Horwill: Captain of Queensland and former captain of the Wallabies during the end of the Robbie Deans era.  Simply is not in good enough form to guarantee his place in the starting team and being in the run on team has to be a factor in selection as captain.  Also, it can not be forgotten that he presided over the Beale / O’Connor fiascos and under a coach focused on building culture that had to count against him.
  • Will Genia: Vice-Captain of Queensland and former captain of the Wallabies.  Much like Horwill, is just no in good enough form to guarantee his selection in the team.  One excellent performance last week against the Highlanders should not mask what has been a season of much lament for the incumbent half back.
  • Michael Hooper: This bloke is a captain of the future so long as he stays healthy.  It is striking though that he is just too inexperienced at this stage to be a captaincy candidate.  Selecting him as a co vice-captain in league with two very experienced players in Moore and Ashley-Cooper will only expand his leadership experience.

Stephen Moore has not been a captain of a team since he played  for Queensland Colts over a decade ago.  That said, he has been a constant in leadership groups in both provincial and national teams for some time. He plays the game in the right way, hard and fair, and is as close as you will find to an 80 minute player in the front row.

I salute the appointment of Stephen Moore as captain of the Wallabies and look forward to seeing him lead out Wallabies on Saturday night.  More to the point I look forward to a new age of positive cultural influences on the Australian team and a time of less “drama” which I am certain Moore can bring to the table.

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 departs: Where to now for the ARU?

Ben Mowen is heading to France to ply his trade in 2015. He will be playing out his 2014 contract with the ACT Brumbies / Wallabies.  The announcement of the contract for 2015 has been made, ostensibly, to allow both teams time to plan for the departure of Mowen from the scene.


The fact is that Mowen is the incumbent captain of both the Brumbies and the Wallabies, having been elevated to the captaincy in favour of James Horwill on the summer tour to Europe.  He is the incumbent Number 8 in both teams. Mowen’s defection, he has been reported as saying, on family grounds (note that it was reported broadly in October 2013 that there were monetary factors also in play) raises a number of issues for the ARU which, with the Super 15 season so close, must be answered swiftly.


The principal issue for both the Brumbies and the Wallabies must be whether Mowen continues to be selected, both as captain and in those respective teams in general.  For the Brumbies the answer is simple: it is a professional rugby franchise rather than a representative one and thus his ongoing selection in both role raises no issues at all.  The position for the Wallabies and the ARU is far more vexed. In my opinion it can not be in the interests of the Wallabies to select a player for whom the allure of being the captain of his country or playing at a World Cup is not strong enough to keep him playing for said country.  I applaud Mowen’s devotion to his family (if one is to believe the reason given) but taking this position leaves a serious question of his commitment to his country.


The World Cup is being held in 2015 and the test matches played by Australia in 2014 will be an important guide to the make up of the Wallabies team that takes the field in that tournament.  That being the case, Mowen simply can not be selected for Australia this year can he?


The other major issue that the defection of Mowen raises is who will be the next captain of Australia? James Horwill seems to be on the outer as captain and the return of David Pocock to the line up hinges on his return from a lengthy rehabilitation from a serious knee injury.  In Europe, Quade Cooper was elevated to the vice captaincy in the aftermath of Horwill’s demotion.  It should also not be forgotten that Will Genia has manfully taken on the position in Queensland during Horwill’s all to regular injury lay offs.  I am not certain who the ARU will pick for this position as they all have competing claims.  It will be vital though that the ARU pick a captain this year that they, injury and form permitting, intend to be the captain at the 2015 World Cup.  The last thing the Wallabies need after all is more instability.


The departure of Ben Mowen again opens the door to a discussion around the recompense of professional rugby players in this country (let’s be honest here: money is an underlying factor no matter the reasons posited by the man himself) albeit I remain steadfastly of the view that the money presently being paid ought be more than enough for the privilege of wearing a gold jersey.