By Alan Dymock
WITH THE Lions clubbing together in a few weeks and finals throughout Europe coming up fast, attention must once again turn to those in the thoughts of Wallaby coach Robbie Deans.
The tour feels close now. Closer than a saran-wrap scarf. What that means is that while the waiting is over on these shores, the pressure down under mounts and talk turns to how Deans will shape his squad, what his tactics will be and how conservative he becomes in the face of the Lions line-ups.
So as time begins to slip away like makeup off a dolphin, who is lighting it up in Australia?
Israel Folau: At full-back he has had a sublime few weeks, looking like he can storm in from any point 20m from the try-line.
It will be worrying for Warren Gatland that Big Izzy is growing in stature, particularly as he can climb up and collect a high ball, but he is likely to be a winger for the Wallabies despite his superhuman efforts from the back against the Kings, who were obliterated 72-10.
There should be enough ballast and burst from the Lions to compete on the flank in a test, but if he comes in looking for work he has shown that he can cause problems.
Hugh Pyle: The Rebels second-row is more like a flanker with a particular attraction to lineouts and a squashed head, but he is impressing. He scored two tries at the weekend against the Chiefs, but it was he willingness to carry and his dynamism at close quarters that may have caught Deans’ eye.
He is not the biggest of names, but he is forcing his way into the reckoning.
Benn Robinson: What the Waratahs did to the Southern Kings in the 72-10 victory bordered on the insensitive. Indeed, a mug of cocoa and a month-long hug would not begin to salve the South African franchise.
Tormentor in chief was loose-head Robinson. He pumped and bucked in the scrum. He had a firmness in his play. He was never blowing. While others like Folau and Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley ran themselves silly, Robinson was doing what he always does, without ever looking like popping a single bead of sweat.
George Smith: It would be dull to go on and on about Smith, but rest assured: despite the Brumbies slackly grasping to keep up with the Crusaders at the weekend, the people of Australia are firmly in love with old Smithy.
Ben Alexander: While Robinson is squashing opposition, Alexander has come under fire for giving away scrum penalties and stumbling just that wee bit more. He is a squad fixture for Australia, but he has slipped down a place, or two in the pecking order.
Jesse Mogg: One of the league’s most exciting prospects had a howler by his own high standards against the ‘Saders. The problem for him? Folau is lighting it up and Kurtley Beale is back from his punchy exile.
A starting spot may be even more of an ask for the mercurial full-back.
James Horwill: Okay, so the Aussie captain elect is in good nick and has just signed a new contract with the Reds. However, despite the fact we all know how hard he is and how he can mix it up or tape the wound and truck on, at some point Horwill needs an unblemished run.
He was a one-half wonder against the Force at the weekend after taking a head knock. In his absence the Reds clung on and almost beat the Perth outfit for the first time in three games, had it not been for a missed Quade Cooper kick. Both men will be in the squad come Lions time, but will their heads be in the right place?
One would suspect that despite it all, they will be.
If you are looking for a bit of Aussie perspective we have George Smith, David Campese and Michael Lynagh saying their piece in the June edition of Rugby World. Don’t forget to buy your copy – it’s on sale Now!Like Rugby World? Subscribe to the magazine for the latest comprehensive content.