Time’s up for Elsom and Mumm in Australian rugby
The Wallabies’ recent woes have been the result of a lack of power in the forwards and to a lesser degree in the backs, as well as the broader issue of a drastic shortfall in quality.
Last year dazzling players such as Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane were left with opportunity to work their magic, such was the one-way bulldozing underway in front of them.
The great hope for the series against the Lions next year is that this season some monsters will appear in both departments to redress this problem.
In the backs the only promising player of any size is Joe Tomane, who has only played two games and so is still very much a hope rather than anything more. Players promised as stars such as Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jordan Rapana and UJ Seuteni are smaller, and in any case coincidentally injured almost before firing a shot, to the great anguish of everyone concerned with Australian rugby.
But the backline is not where the real difficulties lie, although any team that has to field Pat Mccabe and Anthony Faiingaa is a few yards short of enough pure talent.
At seven, wonderful back-up or even starting candidates have emerged in the form of Michael Hooper and Liam Gill, but these are not really what are so desperately required. Nor is a player like Ben Mowen, for all his virtues. He is not a beastly wrecking-ball.
Instead the Wallabies need towering Herculeses, 400-pound bench-pressing bulls who can hammer back the opposition in both attack and defence. Potential in this department has proved elusive in Australian rugby, doubtless because rugby league has strutted off with all the biggest talent at junior level.
(Note, Lopeti Timani and Joe Tomane are league recruits, or rather re-recruits, in that their original game was rugby and they were plucked from its bosom by league scouts.)
The three saviours who may or may not be materialising are the Timani brothers at the Waratahs, and Ita Vaea at the Brumbies. There could be long arguments over the nature and extent of Vaea’s talent, but it seems clear that Sitaleki and Lopeti Timani are at least worth further viewing.
The Wallabies indeed already have two outstanding powerhouse forwards in Wycliff Palu and Tatafu-Polota-Nau, but these players are rarely fit. In order for the pack to be competitive they only need two players out of those so far mentioned.
If the two Timanis and Vaea are fully developed by the end of this Super season, so that they could then play a full international season if successful, then Australia would be in good shape to take on the Lions.
Except there is an obstacle, or rather an individual representing a culture that lets down its talent at every stage. Michael Foley has two ageing players long past their prime in Dean Mumm and Rocky Elsom, and two up-and-coming stars in the Timani brothers.
A coach outside the Waratahs and possibly Australia would jettison the first two and introduce the Timanis as quickly as possible, and indeed it is Foley’s failure to do this that could well have cost the Waratahs their finals place already.
Moreover, he should stop thinking that Lopeti Timani is only a number 8 who can replace Palu earlier than the latter deserves, and move him to six in order to create a back row of vast power.
But how could he drop two highly experienced players, strong, committed leaders, with scores of Wallaby caps? Everywhere in Australia the same pattern is at work. Age, experience and personality are put far ahead of talent to the detriment and indeed destruction of the Super and national teams’ hopes.
Indeed, it should be asked, given New South Wales’ position as the state producing 41 percent of the country’s players, are there better backs than Adam Ashley-Cooper who aren’t allowed in the squad because they aren’t as established as he is? Are such players possibly lost to Australian rugby altogether? Are there young talents, superior to Dean Mumm, that fail to make the cut because of his seniority and lofty presence?
For the immediate future, one thing is clear: any players who hope to take part in the Lions series will probably have to appear this year in order to be experienced enough in international rugby for next year.
That means the lies of Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jordan Rapana, UJ Seuteni, Ita Vaea and especially the Timanis must be introduced to the highest level this year if they are going to be prepared. Any new contenders introduced into the system next season may well be too late.
The Timanis seem to be the main hope. But will Michael Foley be brave enough to forsake his life-long attachment to old friend Rocky Elsom and grizzled warrior Dean Mumm?
Wallabes vs Wales - Scott Allen's match highlights -