How good can Scott Higginbotham be?
Scott Higginbotham’s first try in Test rugby last week announced his presence on the international scene as no other deed could. Already a world class star in the minds of many fans, it is moments like his pick and go try that should silence those that don’t agree.
He is most certainly in the Wallaby side as a dynamic ball carrier and a strike weapon for five pointers. Otherwise his selection at flanker makes less sense than if we went with the higher work rates of Dennis or Mowen.
If he can hold his place by doing what he does best, we’re looking at someone that might become a try-scoring phenomenon.
That is a big call I know, considering his previous five Wallaby starts have been relatively un-spectacular.
His starting test debut against South Africa in Durban was an unheralded disaster for him. Despite the Wallaby victory, Higginbotham played too wide and too quiet for Deans liking and he was subsequently dumped for the all important Tri-Nations final.
Higginbotham did not make another start until the Wallabies had already qualified for the Quarter Finals at the Rugby World Cup. His performance in this match against Russia was equally disappointing.
At this point serious questions had to be raised about his suitability for Test match rugby. Circumstances involving a semi final exit at the Rugby World Cup and another injury to his main rival for the national number six shirt, Rocky Elsom, dictated that he would start two more Tests at the end of last year. Again his performances were nothing to text, tweet or Facebook about.
His performances for the Reds this season had ranged from satisfactory to exciting and to extremely lacklustre.
If one compares his two performances against the Brumbies this year, for instance, it is as if two different Higginbothams exist, popping in and out of each other’s parallel universes. One is the dynamic try scoring machine that played in the first match against the Brumbies, the one we all hope will turn out for the Wallabies.
The other is the player that, in 80 minutes of conference-lead deciding rugby, produced three carries for 10 metres and was the first to arrive at only three rucks.
Despite this inconsistency curiously he remained, as ever, in the public conscious as someone Deans should not leave out of the Wallaby side. Was it the Chabal-like caveman looks propelling him into a Chabal-like cult following?
For Higginbotham’s sake I hope not. The French fans’ adoration of Chabal and insistence that he be chosen only proved that the public can not be trusted to pick rugby teams. After all, Chabal, despite his moments of strength and his likeability, was in the end, a Test match rugby flop.
To the Scotland match and Higginbotham’s first start at no 8 since his run on debut was much more like it. It started to become clear that if he played in the middle of the park he had more substance than perhaps many had given him credit. It was a solid hit-out and a good lesson in what Test match rugby is about.
The only thing he needed to do better last Saturday, in addition to the acceptable work rate that he put in, was adjust his body height when he carried. He also needed to bag a try, which he did.
If he can maintain his work rate and not give Deans an excuse to drop him for the less spectacular more industrious options, he has the physical attributes, the speed and the try scoring nous to become something special.
He might even break some records. For the Wallabies, the leading try scorer for forwards in tests is a joint record held by Rocky Elsom and Jeremy Paul, who both have 14 tries to their names. I think this is more than attainable for someone like ‘Higgers’, so long as he plays a decent number of tests.
In talking of records for try scoring forwards, it is no surprise that a Japanese player once again reigns supreme. The Japanese back-rower Takashi Kikutani has 23 of them. But I think that record is as meaningful as the amount of tries I’ve scored in the backyard against my children and my dog.
Interestingly, if you look at only the other leading 10 nations, the record is held by Colin Charvis a very healthy 22 tries.
Leaving my favourite topic, records, aside, if you look at the history of Test match rugby, there really hasn’t been a stand out noted try scoring forward, a Steve Menzies type if you will. The game really is crying out for one.
If there was ever a forward to become a try-scoring legend it is Higginbotham and this will be key to his own and for Wallaby success in the years to come.
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