Why Berrick Barnes is the key for Wobbly Wallabies

Will McCloy Roar Pro

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    Robbie Deans must install Berrick Barnes in his starting 15 if the Wallabies are to beat the All Blacks in Sunday’s second semi final. Barnes’ poise and direction will be essential if Australia – and Quade Cooper – are going to withstand the Eden Park pressure cooker.

    With Brumbies battering ram Pat McCabe likely to miss the game after re-injuring his shoulder, Barnes’ selection wont be at Coopers expense.

    This week Deans publicly backed the fly-half despite his confused and desperate effort against the Springboks, but who’s to say what Deans would do if McCabe – who he clearly favours in the midfield – had been fit and firing?

    Cooper is a special player when given the time and space to operate, but a quarter final showing which included a charged down kick, some errant passes, poor kicking and repeated misfires when running the ball, will see him targeted even more than usual – by both the 15 All Blacks on the field and the 60,000 around it.

    Speaking of time and space, Cooper may yet have plenty of both.

    Deans may be forced to start him at fullback, if, and please join me in praying this doesn’t happen, Kurtley Beale’s hamstring doesn’t come good in time.

    Wherever he plays, it’s clear that the mercurial yet inconsistent Cooper needs a cool head alongside him.

    The influence of Barnes in the backline is as pronounced as David Pocock’s in the pack – when either is off the field, the Wallabies look a lesser side. Barnes operates well under pressure, and he’ll take some of that pressure from Cooper’s shoulders.

    His deft kick into the corner in the dying minutes against South Africa led to the penalty goal that put them back in front. If Australia persist with the field position tactics that saw them dubbed the ‘Dullabies’ over the ditch, and saw them win, then who better to make sure it works.

    The host nation also have their selection issues.

    With Dan Carter out, and replacement All Black fly-half Colin Slade aggravating a groin injury against Argentina, 22 year old third string playmaker Aaron Cruden will likely don the number 10 this week.

    To put that selection into perspective, little more than a week ago, Cruden was kicking back in Palmerston North, drinking beers and skateboarding. He still has the grazes on the knees to prove it.

    He could well be overawed by the occasion, but outside him lie arguably the strongest centre pairing in the competition.

    In a poor first half against Argentina, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith stood out, taking the Pumas on in the midfield. Aside from Piri Weepu, Nonu was the standout for the men in black. He and Smith will again guide the black back line, and that means direct and powerful midfield running, something that the league educated Barnes knows only too well.

    Let’s hope that we see some of the aggressive running rugby that the Wallabies can produce. It’s happened between these sides before.

    However, in a stage of the tournament where tries are scarce and the four teams left are painfully aware of the consequences of an error, Sunday’s semi-final could well be a tough, defensive kick-fest, with a try or two and the winner decided on penalties.

    With Weepu in stellar goal kicking form, field position will be paramount and poise under pressure will be needed. Barnes can provide both.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • October 12th 2011 @ 6:58am
      niwdEyaJ said | October 12th 2011 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      I like Barnes where he is – on the bench coming on for McCabe in the last 20-30mins. What’s the status with McCabe anyway? I read somehwere that he’s ok and so is Kepu… only Beale in doubt for Sunday? That being the case, I’d like to see Cooper, McCabe, AAC at 10, 12 and 13… Ioane & JOC on the wings & KB at (if fit). If KB is out, then AAC to fullback and Faingaa at 13. either way, Barnes should stay on the bench and come on in the 2nd half when the game opens up a little…. AND CAN WE PLEASE HAVE HIGGINBOTHAM IN THE 22 INSTEAD OF MCCALMAN???

      • October 12th 2011 @ 9:09am
        Pillock said | October 12th 2011 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        I’m with you on Higginbotham, everytime he comes on he makes a difference and gets a bit of go forward which is what the wallabies are solely missing. Also a good option in the lineout where we have been struggling.
        Barnes was good when he came on but the AB centres are a step above the SA pair in attack and if they get anywhere near the ball that SA got the wallabies shouldn’t even bother coming out for the second half because they will cut us to pieces.
        Best hope to win will be to get points early and make the AB sweat. They are good front runners but imagine the pressure on them if they are behind deep in the second half. They might just crack.

    • October 12th 2011 @ 9:03am
      mace22 said | October 12th 2011 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      I agree about the centre pairing of nonu and smith. Australia’s has a good backline not as great as they seem to think they are. If they can find centres of the quality of new zealand and wales then they will become a great backline. Pocock is about the only forward I would put in a world fifteen. But he will never reach his real potential until australia can at least compete with other forward packs. Even so called minnow forwards.

    • October 12th 2011 @ 9:26am
      Brett McKay said | October 12th 2011 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      G’day Will, and welcome to the revered surrounds of The Roar..

      If McCabe is right to go, as seems to be the case, you’d expect (hope) the most logical shuffling would be to leave Cooper where he is, Barnes into 12, McCabe out one, and Ashley-Cooper to 15. At a pinch, I’d also take O’Connor to 15, and Ashley-Cooper also out one spot. This would seem to have the least amount of risk to it, and all players would be in spots they’re more than comfortable in.

      Barnes can play 10, but I don’t he plays as well at International level there, as he does at 12. And Cooper at 15?? Hmmmm..

      • October 12th 2011 @ 11:25am
        MikeN said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Are you aware that Barnes was playing 15 at Sydney Uni during his comeback and played well there
        Less disruption if Beale is ruled out

        • October 12th 2011 @ 11:34am
          Brett McKay said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          well aware, Mike. But even then, wearing 15, he spent most of his time at 10 or 12..

          • October 12th 2011 @ 11:45am
            MikeN said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            Isn’t that the hybrid style of 15 the Wallabies play these days
            Would allow Digby to stay out marking their dangerous wingers

            • October 12th 2011 @ 11:54am
              Brett McKay said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              that’s my point though Mike, he wasn’t playing fullback of any style, despite wearing that jersey. By his second game back he was playing 10 and 12 as he does for NSW and Australia..

      • October 12th 2011 @ 11:56am
        Will McCloy said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Hi Brett, Cheers for the welcome..

        You’re right, i truly hope Cooper doesn’t end up in the 15 jumper – He needs to stay at 10, both O’Conner and A A-C deserve a run at 15 first. Barnes must start at 12 alongside Cooper – but then if McCabe is out, who else is there – Rob Horne has played 47 minutes of test rugby this year. If McCabe is fit i like him marking Conrad Smith – i think the pairing of Barnes and McCabe could take on Nonu and Smith. However if Beale is fit, i still like A A-C at 13, dropping McCabe to the bench..

        Its nice having all these options isn’t it..

        • October 12th 2011 @ 1:06pm
          Brett McKay said | October 12th 2011 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

          absolutely Will, contrast that with even as recently as this time last year…

    • October 12th 2011 @ 11:28am
      Johnno said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:28am | ! Report

      I would play barnes , beale , or JOC at 5/8. Quade cooper is a last resort option. ANd iw old seriously look at rob horn as an o/c option he looked seriously classy vs russia, like pat mace player but with more skill. I rate him highly.

    • October 12th 2011 @ 11:32am
      El Gamba said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:32am | ! Report

      I think 5/8 is less of an issue than it could be for the All Blacks because of the options Nonu, Smith and the back three provide whoever the playmaker is. That being said, Carter’s defense will be missed and a good channel to attack will be the 10,12 channel with Nonu sometimes being caught out going for a big hit which sleight of hand from the wallabies may be able to exploit. I’m not sure McCabe is therefore the right option for attack and potentially brings Horne into the equation depending on using Barnes for impact later.

      Everything currently hinges on KB though.

      Brett, does McCabe have much history at 13? It may not be a great idea if not against Smith/Nonu.

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      • October 12th 2011 @ 11:38am
        Max Power said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        McCabe has played a lot of club rugby for Warringah at 13. He also played 13 for the Wallabies mid-week teams on the end of year tour last year.

      • October 12th 2011 @ 11:39am
        Brett McKay said | October 12th 2011 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        EG, probably only marginally less experience than he has at 12. I’m sure he spent time at 13 in 2010 for the Brumbies, and I think also he played 13 on the Spring tour last year, where he won a Test debut on the bench against Italy. Come start of this year’s Super Rugby season he was alternating between 13 and 15 before ultimately ending up at 12…

        And he probably plays like a 13 anyway, even when he’s wearing 12 (as do Horne and Anthony Fainga’a, if we think about it)

        • October 12th 2011 @ 2:50pm
          El Gamba said | October 12th 2011 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          Fair enough, 13 is a pretty tough defensive channel with Smith and Nonu though, may be a big ask with not much form of recent (I do recall him at 13 for the Brumbies now that you mention it and think he made a pretty good fist of it). I like Pillock’s below personally, AAC is good under the high ball and will hit gaps and can finish. He’s a pretty good broken field runner as well and does sometimes find holes similar to the Beale found last weekend just after the try (If only Moore was JOC!!). There are a lot of permutations though with the versatile personnel available –

          McCabe (as you point out) 12, 13, 15, 11/14
          Horne 12, 13
          Barnes 10, 12
          Cooper 10, 15
          JOC 10, 15, 12, 11/14 (10 is obviously unlikely)
          Faainga 12, 13
          AAC 12, 13, 11/14, 15
          Ioane 11/14, 13
          Turner 11/14, 13, 15
          Samo 8, 11/14 (haha couldn’t resist)

          Some good players there, just getting the combinations right is the trick.

          I suppose even if KB is declared fit to play a solid contingency needs to be in place for when he comes off – unlikely that you’d go 80 with even the slightest hamstring strain. Was it a clue when Barnes went to 10 and Cooper to 15 on Sunday?

          I suppose the up-side at this point is that the All Blacks will only have 48 hours to get a game plan together based on the final selection, this won’t make it easier for Cruden to focus on a single pattern coming in to the team at such a late stage.

          • October 12th 2011 @ 3:04pm
            formeropenside said | October 12th 2011 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

            McCabe is more of a 13 than a 12. Plays a bit of 15 too. Not really a 12 before Deans decided he was his long-lost love child.

            • October 12th 2011 @ 3:23pm
              El Gamba said | October 12th 2011 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

              Do you doubt the paternity test?

      • October 12th 2011 @ 12:03pm
        Pillock said | October 12th 2011 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

        I reckon Beale is gone. Hamstrings don’t fix themselves in a week no matter how minor.
        For mine Faainga to 13 and AAC at fullback, fairly defensive but I don’t think it will be a rip roaring throw the ball around type of game. Only time it will be like that is in the last 15 and one team needs a try or 2 to stay in the match. Then you can reshuffle and use the bench so it is important to get your nose in front or at worst stay with 7 to keep pressure on.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 12th 2011 @ 12:05pm
      2many1ndians said | October 12th 2011 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

      I really hope Beale plays, I like watching him play and if this game is to be the epic encounter most are predicting, he needs to be out on the park.

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