Who is the Wallabies’ next number eight?
Watching the imperious performance by Kieran Reid against the Chiefs recently has left me to ponder our stocks for the Wallabies next number-eight jersey.
Kieran Reid is unarguably the leading number eight in world rugby today.
Given the way the game is being played at the moment a team’s number eight is as critical as nine, 10 and 15. Moreover it’s probably of equal importance as the open side flanker in the pack.
In the case of the Crusaders, Reid’s contribution would suggest that these days he is more important to them than Ritchie McCaw.
The reasons for Reid’s importance are deceptively simple. First of all, he almost always gets over the advantage line – and by some metres.
Secondly, he has good pace, not just off the mark but over 20 metres.
Thirdly, his handling skills are commendable, including his exceptional work at the line out and contested kicks/kick offs.
Fourthly, he actually locks the scrum. It is worth reminding readers that number eights used to be known as locks and for good reason. They are actually required to provide horse power in the scrum, not just hang off it.
Further to this, Reid is a punishing defender. And I could go on.
The incumbent Wallaby number eight is Wycliff Palu. These days Cliffy is a somewhat lesser contributor than in his prime. He appears to have lost pace and dynamism.
While he occasionally makes metres, his work rate has diminished and he is rarely seen inflicting his defensive capabilities on opposition sides.
Palu lacks the presence he once had. He remains injury prone and seems at best a 50-minute proposition in what I would argue is a specialist position. Observe McCaw’s lesser contribution as a number eight in Reid’s absence.
Scott Higginbotham is probably the man most likely to succeed. I worry about Higginbotham when the going gets tough.
There is no doubt he can be a first-class ball runner and ball carrier and he meets the first three of the Reid benchmarks.
But I have misgivings about his contribution to our scrum and generally his commitment to hard graft. He does not seem to link well with his half and that includes Will Genia.
Ben Mowen is a very good provincial payer and clearly a good captain but he does not have the physicality and presence to make him a serious option.
Robbie Deans clearly agrees. The standard after these three drops dramatically and that includes Richard Brown, someone who has played way more tests than he should have.
The answer I believe lies in Dave Dennis. I don’t know if he has sufficient pace but he does not shirk the hard graft. He gets over the advantage line consistently, can off load and is more than useful at the line out.
Dennis can and will push in scrums. He would need some re-training to be a serious option but I would argue that our stocks are so thin in this key position that we need a medium term solution, and fast.
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