By Alan Dymock
ON SUNDAY the Australian public will know the initial 25-man squad for the Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
Understandably the timbre of some hollering Wallaby fans may weaken in the days building up, their voices wobbling thanks to unfolding events down under. First they held a bafflingly titled “logistics camp” last month where a squad of 30 prospective Test players reportedly talked tactics. Quade Cooper was omitted from proceedings and it has now been said that the free-spirited Red will be watched during Queensland’s game against the Lions. If this is true then it does not bode well for the maverick’s inclusion come Sunday.
However, theories about this were all poured out before Kurtley Beale swallowed his pride and nominated himself for rehab, manfully accepting his own failings and removing himself from active footie so that he could seek help.
It provides Robbie Deans with some difficult quandaries before he makes his squad public. Quade is going nowhere. Without him? Promising and supremely talented playmaker James O’Connor will potentially be free from the other ‘Three Amigos’, meaning there is a chance he could step up against the Lions and play like the Northern Hemisphere fear he can. However, the question of where else he could slot in makes things difficult for the Wallaby selectors.
With O’Connor at 10 there could be no need to blood Brumbie Christian Lealiifano, but then Berrick Barnes may be used. At centre, O’Connor would have to build up a quick rapport with whichever full-back comes in Beale’s stead (provided he would have been a full-back rather than a stand-off). Now Deans has to call up Jesse Mogg of the Brumbies or Izzy Folau for their first camp. Some would swoon with expectation, but it hints at an adventure that belies the last few international windows that Deans has overseen. Suddenly there is chatter about reinstating the likes of Pat McCabe or Rob Horne in the hope that there is a steady, reliable, painted-by-numbers centre to compliment the bustling talents that force Deans’ hand.
Thankfully for the selectors, James Horwill and Will Genia can clamp down as senior figures, ensuring that any uncertainty is an irrelevance. After all, confidence appears to be high in Australia following the Lions squad announcement and there is enough brilliance on show during the Super 15 weekends to make them optimistic.
The breakaways will be what worry the Lions. Scott Higginbotham has had a fine season and Ben Mowen may be knocking on the door. A lot of talk has burst out about returning hero George Smith and young Liam Gill and Michael Hooper have more fondness for stealing than Winona Ryder in a street market.
With the Lions, though, it comes down to what the perception of any Aussie squad is and what the reality is that Gatland highlights. It is a tired cliché to say Australians cannot scrummage, but there will be no let-up at the Lions end. Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander will definitely be selected, as will Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau.
The Lions have to expect that strong Australian players have come on even more, as well as accepting that they cannot predict the strength of any new players. This means there cannot be an assumption of weakness.
After all, Australia can raise their game for these landmark Tests just as every host does. Come Sunday, those pumped up players will be ready to go.