Barnes must go if Wallabies want to win
Author John C. Maxwell once wrote, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” In rugby terms, you would be talking about the number 10.
So Berrick Barnes, the Wallabies’ saviour in the June Test matches, must be replaced if the Wallabies want to win in the Rugby Championship.
Barnes is not a leader – he will be the first to admit circumstance has forced his hand to play as a first five-eighth. His play is characterised by quiet determination to play a solid and secure game.
He is a cog in the machine, rather than the one pulling the lever.
Great, but we aren’t talking about the English team. Or Ireland. Or any team who base their game around a no-frills five-eighth. We are talking about Australia, a team gifted with back-line flair. They need someone who can pull the rugby strings.
While Barnes is at the helm, Australia plays a predictable game. We saw it last night in their 19-27 defeat to the All Blacks. It’s not his fault. A regular number 12, Barnes has a sound kicking game and is a solid tactician.
If he wore the blue of Scotland or the green of Ireland, he would do well. But the Wallabies’ strength is their exciting backs and they need someone who can unleash them. It’s fine to have Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale out wide, but at the moment Barnes is not giving them the space to work their magic.
Quade Cooper has dazzling rugby skills – the ability to throw flat 50 meter passes, vision to create opportunities and skill to unlock defenses – but his biggest attributes are confidence and inspiration.
It is no fluke that Australia’s most recent All Black defeats were when Cooper was at his incandescent best – a 25-20 win in Brisbane last year and a 26-24 victory in Hong Kong in 2010
When the Wallabies have all their key players back – including James O’Connor – their backline is on par with many others in terms of skill and pace. Cooper is just the man to re-ignite the Wallaby fire.
Cooper reminds me of former All Black five-eighth Carlos Spencer. The Aucklander had a bag of rugby tricks like few others – and his instinctive confidence inspired the All Blacks to a stellar attacking rugby year in 2003, including scoring more than 50 points over Australia and South Africa during the Tri-Nations.
The Wallabies could do better than watch how Spencer unlocked the exciting talents of Joe Rokocoko and Mils Muliaina that year.
If Australia hopes to win a game in the Rugby Championship, Cooper needs to play and channel his inner Carlos.