Wallabies centres must dare to dare
128 Have your say
Australian rugby player Pat McCabe passes the ball. AP Photo/Rob Griffith
Australia has never had a great front row, but now it appears the Wallabies have a new problem – the centres.
This is an unfamilar position for Australians to be in. For many seasons we watched Horan and Little run, catch, pass and tackle. And kick, very occasionally.
They were, after all, arguably the greatest centre pairing ever to play the game.
Following them we had a gritty but skillful ball player in Elton Flatley at 12 and two big robust outside centres in Herbert and Mortlock, who never let the side down.
It was about combinations and combinations combine to score tries.
In the wake of the Welsh test series, the Wallabies have been criticised for “not daring to dare” by The Australian‘s Wayne Smith.
While it appears that Australia has found their long-lost compusure in tight games, critics were not satisfied with their recent 3-0 series win.
Fair enough; there has to be one eye on the Rugby Championship and scoring five tries in three tests won’t win that. So how do the Wallabies “dare to dare” again?
Why has there been a shortage of tries? The absence of Beale, Cooper and O’Connor certainly hasn’t helped.
But this isn’t an issue For mine; it starts and finishes in the centres.
Before I have a crack, credit where credit is due. In Pat McCabe, we have a number 12 who leaves it all on the field, a Nathan Grey, blood-and-guts type player.
I can’t say the same for Horne. In fact, can anybody recall Rob Horne doing anything special on a rugby field ever?
Anyway, while McCabe is a tremendously gutsy player and Horne is not, I don’t see either winning anything as the starting 12 and 13 for Australia.
By ‘anything’ I mean the trophies we all really care about – the Bledisloe, the British Lions Series, the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Deans has been pilloried for picking McCabe at 12, but let’s take a moment to consider who the other starting inside centres are in international rugby.
The All Blacks have moved away from an Aaron Mauger-type player at second receiver and now look set on picking Sonny-Bill ahead of Nonu.
Stuart Lancaster picked one-dimensional Manu Tuilagi at 12 for England ahead of the ball-playing Owen Farrell.
The French have Fofana and the Welsh have Jamie Roberts when fit. Only South Africa picked close to a ball-playing inside centre in Frans Steyn and that is probably because Morne Steyn is about as creative as Matt Dunning.
Frans is still a lump. The preference in international rugby is clearly for big, ball-carrying inside centres who can offload. But that is wrong for Australia and here is why.
Firstly, McCabe is neither big or a ball carrier. All the heart in the world doesn’t equate to the two stone he is giving away each time he gets on the field.
Neither is he a guy who is an especially skillful passer or possesses a freakish offload like SBW.
He often runs standing upright into traffic and when he lowers his body height, god bless him, he merely moves one moment closer to oblivion.
Which leads me to my second point; we simply do not have a big, physically imposing, ball-carrying inside centre in Australian rugby right now.
Tapuai won’t cut it. Carter is a nonse. Lloyd Johansson is not international class.
We have Barnes and James O’Connor. Those are the only options at 12 as I see it and one of them must get the job.
After his problems with head knocks, Barnesy is not the man. I wish he was as he combines well with Cooper, but I’m not sure he will withstand the punishment in the long term.
James O’Connor must now be picked at 12 with one eye on 2013 and two eyes on 2015.
Aside from the fact that most of us would like to see a little arrogance knocked out of him by a particularly large back rower, the little Beiber lookalike is the best fit.
I hate to admit it, but he is strong, tenacious and skillful.
He can defend long enough for his backrow to arrivve and by gosh he can attack. He has the ability to show up a SBW or Jamie Roberts.
Whoever plays at ten will suddenly have options. Which brings me to 13.
Digby Ioane is not the answer. While he runs like a cannibal with a new-born baby, he cannot pass. He really really can’t.
For all the criticism of McCabe’s passing it isn’t nearly as bad as Digby’s. Which is why McCabe should play 13 outside James O’Connor.
Yes, you read that right. McCabe has the pace, has played there before and he offers more than Faingga.
From that point it boils down to a simple choice: Horne or MCabe.
It also allows room for Mitchell to be brought back at 14 alongside Ioane and Beale.
If and when matches are tight Barnes will still be available on the bench with Adam Ashley-Cooper the ultimate security blanket at 13 and for the back three.
Cooper and Beale will alternate seemlessly at first receiver. With Mr Beiber at 12, the three amigos will be in the thick of the action. And so they should be.
This duo get paid the big bucks and it’s time for them to stand up. Most importantly, it will bring the “daring to dare” dream alive.
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