It’s a World Cup year and typically coaches, fans, players and administrators start to think short-term.
What will boost the Wallabies chances in Japan? Who should make the plane? Is it possible for a certain to sign for a Super Rugby franchise to become eligible? What about the Matt Giteau Law?
To borrow a quote from Helen Lovejoy – “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”
While that is all well and good, maybe Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby teams should use this season to provide significant game time to upcoming players and future Wallabies.
Look across the Tasman and you’ll see the New Zealand Rugby Union dictating when and for how long All Blacks players can take to the field. A similar agreement was reportedly sought by Rugby Australia and its teams but with the issue that all Australian teams operate semi-independently from RA.
Would it not be beneficial to give Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau etc time on the bench or the beach before a lengthier stretch in the second half of the season? We already know what these players can do.
Watching the Brumbies-Waratahs match on Friday night I became a bit frustrated, bored and uninspired in equal measure. There is so much promise in some of the younger players that sign Super Rugby contracts but the guys who came through a generation or two before seem to be blocking their path.
Daryl Gibson, Dan McKellar, Dave Wessels and Brad Thorn should have a look at players for future seasons as much as current stars of the Australian game.
Yes, Thorn is doing this with his ‘culture change’ actions, while Wessels has incredible options in the backline and Quade Cooper needs to get high level competitive action under his belt again – but what are McKellar and Gibson doing?
Christian Lealiifano and Foley are decent players, who dictate how their teams operate; but why did it take until after the 70 minute mark for backup flyhalves to be given game time? Jordan Jackson-Hope and Mack Mason came on in the 72nd and 76th minute, respectively, with the intensity in the game significantly lower than even the 60th minute.
Know, I really like Lealiifano and his story of fighting back against the odds captures the imagination, but he is not the future of the Brumbies or the Wallabies. Surely, giving Jackson-Hope more game time and licence to stamp his style on the team would benefit him in the longer term.
Mason seemingly broke through at the Waratahs in 2017, but since then has not been given the opportunity to properly oust or push Foley for the starting spot.
Foley has been overplayed by the Waratahs and it shows. He looks predictable and lacking the spark that he had when he came back from 7s. His kicking game also remains lacking.
Out of hand, he doesn’t have the distance to really test opposition defence, while off the T he is not living up to his ‘Iceman’ alter go.
Michael Cheika has consistently said he is trying to increase the depth for the Wallabies but clearly he has not managed this in some positions (9, 10, 15 and front row). He needs to try and exert some influence over the Super Rugby coaches to give younger guys in these positions meaningful minutes.
The current contenders for the 10 guernsey for this World Cup appear to be Foley (NSW), Cooper (Vic) and Lealiifano (ACT); with Matt Toomua adding to this list when he links up with Cooper in Melbourne.
‘What about after the World Cup?’ I hear you cry.
What about after the usual exodus or retirements following Japan 2019? Are these players really going to carry the Wallabies on to 2023? They have a combined age of 119 years old and this will increase by the time the first ball is kicked in Tokyo in September.
Future contenders for the Super Rugby 10 shirts and Wallabies gold are there but, without the carrot of higher honours, there is always the risk that they move overseas early to for the opportunity and the eventual cash rewards.
Look at Kyle Godwin (Connacht) and Zack Holmes (Toulouse). Yes, neither was particularly outstanding at Super Rugby level but both had promise earlier in their careers but were not able to realise it in Australia.
In my opinion, the potential candidates for the Wallabies shirt are:
Mack Mason (23 years old) – Waratahs
Will Harrison (19 years old) – Waratahs
Jordan Jackson-Hope (22 years old) – Brumbies
Bayley Kuenzle (20 years old) – Brumbies
Hamish Stewart (21 years old) – Reds
Isaac Lucas (20 years old) – Reds
Jack Maddocks (22 years old) – Rebels
Stuart Dunbar (23 years old) – Rebels
Jack McGregor (22 years old) – Force
Nick Jooste (21 years old) – Force
Now, not all of these players will make it at flyhalf or at Super Rugby level. Some have even previously had opportunities (although minor); and others are being backed by their coach (Stewart and Lucas).
The point is that each of these players has shown promise at flyhalf; and they could yet develop to great players if given real chances. There may be a need for players to switch franchises in order to develop at a greater rate; or to simply get on the pitch.
I think it would be great for Australian rugby if post-Japan each Super Rugby franchise had a couple of fly-halves truly battling for the starting sport. If this isn’t going to be the case maybe these players should look to Europe for opportunities and then return as fully established senior players who could demand starting spots.
Or maybe, RA will eventually cave and remove the Giteau Law, in which case there would be not limits over where players could go.
If young players are given the chance, then the future could be bright. It could be Green and Gold.