Michael Cheika has described the Wallabies’ lead-up to the Rugby World Cup as “perfect” but that has only muddied the selection waters for their opening Test against Fiji.
When considering the recent Wallaby victory at Twickenham, one gets the sense Wallaby coach Robbie Deans and his team may have had a heart-to-heart leading up to the now famous win over the old enemy.
Not the regular coach’s address and the ‘time to pull up your socks’ styled motivational moment that would have been befitting, considering the Wallabies dismal effort in Paris; a performance that left the Australian rugby public aghast and many calling for the head of the awkwardly spoken Cantabrian.
No, I get the sense the Wallabies suggested Robbie Deans to show faith in them as rugby players, as opposed to the players keeping the faith in the questionable Deans game plan.
Against England the Wallabies played with more freedom and composure than Wallaby fans have been used to in recent times. The shackles did not appear off, but at least a little looser.
Instead of the suffocating, Deans-inspired Pat McCabe crash ball as option one, two and three, the Wallaby outside backs last Saturday actually received the ball on the front foot, with width and space.
The Wallaby back line was daring and the risk taken was rewarded with opportunity rarely seen this season.
When Nick Phipps received the ball near the halfway line how many times have we seen the obligatory kick chase from such a position? However on this occasion, Phipps chanced his arm and ran around the ill positioned English lock Tom Palmer, ending in a wonderfully abrasive Nick Cummins try.
Although Deans himself stated the Wallabies would be looking to ask more questions of the English than they did the French, that itself would not be hard. The quality of the Wallaby cross examination of the French would have seen an innocent man hang and a guilty man walk.
It was a negligible performance that should never ever be repeated. Essentially, just about anything the Wallabies did against the English would have fulfilled the Deans statement.
However the tactics and execution of the Wallabies against the English suggests either the players or the changes of selection for the English Test contributed to the win more than the old Deans game plan.
Would there have been such ball movement if Pat McCabe was at inside centre on the weekend instead the promising Ben Tapaui? There is no doubt McCabe would have been part of the starting VX and sitting off the shoulder of Kurtley Beale, as Robbie Deans likes.
The question begs, did fate deal Robbie Deans a favour in the injury of Pat McCabe essentially forcing his hand to select Ben Tapaui in his preferred 12 jumper?
McCabe is still a vital member of the Wallabies, yet Tapaui turned in an encouraging performance that included offloads and line breaks, something McCabe has struggled with.
Either way it’s a welcome paradox that an injury has led to a win, not another hopeless headline.
As the Wallabies march on Florence, the challenge now for Robbie Deans is selections. It is the perfect time for David Pocock to reintegrate into the starting XV and allow the impressive Michael Hooper a well-earned rest.
For the sake of his brain health, Tatafu Polota-Nau should not even be considered for the Italian Test, allowing Stephen Moore a start and young Queenslander James Hanson the opportunity for a second cap off the bench. A fresh Cliff Palu will be required for Wales, allowing Samo to come in at lock.
The deservedly maligned Dave Dennis should make way for Liam Gill, who is an understated and underestimated loose forward. I think the Italian Test a perfect opportunity for him to start, with Higginbotham to ride the pine.
It was encouraging to see the Wallabies stand up for their coach in his time of need. It indicates there is a positive culture within the group. I would suggest to coach Deans to ‘keep the faith’ in the players and expanding game plan.
Enjoy the Coliseum and beware the Ides of March. You may yet live to see the Lions.