Australian teams are here to the play in 2019.
‘Centralisation’ in inverted commas seems to be working. Australian Super Rugby teams are suddenly competitive again. Increased standards of fitness to Wallaby standards mean we are no longer easy beats.
As is evidenced by Rounds 1 and 2, we can genuinely go toe to toe with New Zealand sides. Teams are not running out of puff or belief like they did in 2018.
This will ultimately be good news for all states and Wallaby aspirations in 2019. With solid coaching setups across the four franchises, improved fitness levels, Australian teams should start to inch up the Super Rugby table.
In so doing player confidence will increase and doubt will be put into the minds of the New Zealand opponents. A Kiwi win over an Aussie team is no longer assured.
So what has happened?
All Super Rugby teams now meet Wallaby fitness standards for a start.
There has been a New Zealand-type system of player movement among the franchises.
Brad Thorn stuck to his guns. The culture and hard work focus worked in the off season, as expected the Reds are primed in the dark red maroon colour playing never say die footy.
They came agonisingly close against the Highlanders. As a Queenslander I was more proud. They didn’t roll over, instead they punched back from sizeable deficits on three occasions. Smarter kicking needs to be the Reds’ focus going forward.
Another let down was the final try gifted to the Chiefs after a back raced off the line and tackled an inside opponent instead of marking his outside opponent.
Something else happened. There was a new lease of life for the exiled Queensland sons. This has been a boom for the other Aussie franchises. Quade Cooper at the Rebels, James Slipper with the Brumbies and Karmichael Hunt with the Wallabies.
Other players have also moved between squads to provide players with opportunities and to fill weaknesses in teams.
That said, looking across the Australian teams, the Reds are at a distinct disadvantage at number 10. For teams to be contenders, the number 10 is critical. Play makers are key match winners. They can change a game in the blink of an eye.
The top three fly halves in Australia are Christian Lealiifano, Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley. Each represent the Brumbies, Rebels and Waratahs. Christian and Quade have both featured heavily in their side’s recent winning highlight reel.
Bernard Foley is the incumbent Wallaby flyhalf. The Reds have the least experienced flyhalf in Hamish Stewart.
The Wallaby selectors job should not be an easy one though. While selecting one flyhalf from these three is tough enough, one more name needs to be added to the mix, Matt Toomua.
Currently playing in Europe, Toomua is earmarked to return to Australia to play for the Rebels towards the end of the season. But why the Rebels, do the Rebels need two top line flyhalves?
Now consider this, in 2011, All Blacks flyhalves Dan Carter and Adam Cruden each suffered groin injuries. The next All Black domino to fall was flyhalf Colin Slade 34 minutes into the World Cup final with a hyper-extended knee.
New Zealand had no choice but to then play their forth pick flyhalf in Stephen Donald. Donald ultimately kicked the winning goal against the France and ended the All Blacks World Cup hoodoo.
The moral of the story is that it pays to have depth in a World Cup. For the Wallabies, the best way to ensure depth is having top flight flyhalves in each of the Franchises and not double loading one franchise with two topline flyhalves. In the case of the Rebels, Quade fills the No. 10 position nicely and then some.
The ultimate test of the spirit of centralisation is Toomua. As the Rebels, Waratahs and Brumbies already have flyhalves who have played for the Wallabies, it makes sense for Toomua to play with the Queensland Reds.
Toomua played rugby for Brisbane State High School and cut his rugby teeth in Queensland before being contracted to play for the Brumbies. Hopefully he would want to return home also?
This is not just about flyhalf depth either, an quality flyhalf contributes to the experience, confidence, quality and depth of the outside backs. This must also be a consideration for Wallabies selectors.
For the younger, inexperienced flyhalves, steadily learning their craft under a mentor can be a great opportunity. They take the field at times, play full games when required, and when the time is right, take the reins themselves as a more accomplished flyhalf. Perhaps they also play inside centre next to the flyhalf on the field.
Currently it has been noted the Reds are topping up the salaries of Quade, Slipper and Hunt. If this the case, surely this is a situation which requires Rugby Australia intervention.
So what do you think, Toomau the Rebel, or Toomau the Red?