Who will be in the Wallabies’ backrow?
158 Have your say
Wallabies player David Pocock takes the ball forward. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
The battle of the breakdown goes a long way to determining which side wins a game of rugby. Which of the current crop of backrowers will help the Wallabies win this crucial facet of play?
Over the last few days I’ve nominated a Wallaby tight five of Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Dan Palmer, Scott Fardy and James Horwill starting and Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu and Kane Douglas on the bench.
Today, I want to cast an eye over the backrow and complete my forward pack nominations.
Let’s start with the open side breakaways. David Pocock should be one of the first picked. His performances at the world cup and particularly in the controversial quarter final victory over South Africa last year were immense.
Pocock’s performances for the Force this year have not been at the same level but we know what he can do in gold and he deserves first shot at retaining the jersey. While Pocock has been dominant, this may be the last year we can say that, with the young tyros Liam Gill and Michael Hooper putting in some standout performances throughout this year’s Super Rugby season.
Hooper in particular combines superb breakdown work with a strong running game while Gill has been a vital cog in the recent Reds resurgence.
Gill will be captaining the Australian U-20 side during the June tests, so won’t be considered here.
Hooper has earned his chance against Scotland which will be a tough ask backing up from his clash with the Rebels four days earlier.
Michael Lipman for the Rebels is ineligible, having represented England. Chris Alcock and Jono Jenkins have work to do to match our best.
Colby Fainga’a was level pegging with Hooper last year but is only now coming back from injury. I will be interested to see if he can have an impact in the back end of the season.
Scott Higginbotham, Dave Dennis and Ben Mowen all have their supporters for the best number 6/8 in Australia, but Higginbotham is the stand out.
Higginbotham has always had the X Factor and a strong wide running game. This season he has tightened up significantly and is a key cog in the tight driving forward play that has turned the Reds season in the right direction.
Dave Dennis has been the Waratahs most consistent forward all year. He has scored some excellent tries from 30-40 metre range. He has been a key link player demonstrating a nice passing game to go with his running and is one of the few fit players at the Waratahs who turns up to breakdowns over the full 80 minutes.
Ben Mowen has blossomed as a leader with the Brumbies. The character with which the young Brumbies are playing is a credit to themselves and their captain. His efforts have been strong in the breakdown and some of the freedom with which Hooper gets to operate comes from what his captain is doing well in this area.
All three of Higginbotham, Dennis and Mowen bring strong lineout games. This is key to supporting my second row group of Fardy, Horwill and Douglas – none of whom are jumping specialists.
All three also have high work rates which would help counter the relatively low work rates of Robinson and Palmer who are there for their scrummaging.
It is questionable whether all three of these players can be selected. Do we need a harder running, harder hitting backrower?
The problem is that none of the other candidates are dominating in this area.
For the Reds Jake Schatz looks promising but appears a year or two away. Radike Samo is looking like he is playing a year too long.
Wycliff Palu at the Waratahs is just getting back to playing consistent rugby. He is managing some good carries but his work rate across 80 minutes is letting him down. When he comes off the bench he is missing some explosiveness as well.
His best match was the first half against the Chiefs, we need to see him putting in at least 60 minute performances of that calibre.
Rocky Elsom looks ponderous and is always injured. He does not appear to be the answer.
At the Brumbies Fotu Aluelua has had an injury interrupted year and doesn’t look like he is ready to go up to the next level.
Ita Vaea has had a couple of exceptional games and has looked fantastic at times with ball in hand. I think it was against the Sharks off the bench where he made ten high quality runs in the space of about twenty minutes. Unfortunately he is struggling to make the starting side and has spent a large part of the year in a largely unsuccessful experiment to play him on the open side.
The Rebels best in this space is the Welshman Gareth Delve who is ineligible. Jarrod Saffy is injured. Luke Jones may be a candidate but has been suspended after just one game in the backrow.
At the Force, Ben McCalman and Matt Hodgson have been tried many times for the Wallabies, I don’t think these two are going to show us anything we haven’t seen before.
Ultimately I think a starting back row of Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock and Ben Mowen, with Dave Dennis on the bench, is the form backrow we can put out.
Palu and Vaea are the next two I would look at but they need to clock minutes on the field and add a higher work rate to the efforts they are making in their games. Luke Jones has probably left his run too late with his impressive tackling stats not being enough, given the limited time seeing him in the backrow.
What do we think, Roarers?
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