By Alan Dymock
THE GLIB and the dry amongst us would perhaps chuckle to themselves as Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie opted not to look after his faithful servant Quade Cooper to promote his ‘man for all seasons’ Matt Toomua. However, in his first Wallaby squad selection, McKenzie has thrown a lot of unknown elements at the All Blacks.
The Bledisloe Cup is a ferocious first game for the new coach, and while McKenzie has always relied on Cooper to bail out the Queensland Reds when they needed a spark, he has shown that his tenure will not be one for favouring old pals with his first selection. Ok, so this is not the exact same story as the play, ‘A man for all seasons’ – a tale of Sir Thomas More being pilloried for not endorsing the choices of his master, King Henry VIII – but there are some similar themes. The larger gentleman at the helm of Australia will show no sentiment in his quest to get what he wants and he is dealing with complex characters, one of which will never change and the other who is eager to climb to the top of his field, in whichever way his leader wants it done.
This may be getting too grand for a simple Wallaby selection, so in order to simplify things it must be pointed out that in this new era, Australia have to compete.
The old way was not getting this done and so McKenzie has the opportunity to throw as much new ideas at the Bledisloe Cup as he can. The scrum rules have changed so he has altered the same old Wallaby scrum. He has two whippersnappers at 10 and 12 and he has a zesty full-back in from the start.
With New Zealand picking a team that most punters could have, McKenzie needs an element of surprise. Not the kind of surprise that Robbie Deans would have brought in; the kind of surprise that would have had you squinting and tilting your head to the side as you try and understand it. No, McKenzie is adamant that he is picking on form and that the players in more comfy positions can cut loose the right way. This leads to debut call-ups for Brumbies Toomua, Scott Fardy, Scott Sio, Nic White and Tevita Kuridrani.
In his first act, McKenzie will have to generate some scintillating attacks with his actors Jesse Mogg, Izzy Folau, James O’Connor and new rudder-man Matt Toomua. If this does not work he always has Quade Cooper for the final scenes and all the while Stephen Moore, James Horwill and Michael Hooper will plug away.
McKenzie declared that Toomua at 10 was a choice because he was “a man for all occasions.”
He went on: “We want to play with the ball and use it, but we’ve got to be strategic and smart too. I’ve talked about skill and smarts, so we’ve got to ensure both those things are in place.”
This is not a dig at Cooper. That would be petty and besides, he has given Cooper a lifeline back into international rugby. The Reds fly-half will be grateful and when his cameo comes he will approach his role with relish.
The thing is that McKenzie wants to beat the All Blacks and he has a lot of choreography to plan in order to do so. After all, it is not as easy as some would have hoped it would be for the former Wallaby prop, this running of a whole country thing.
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Wallabies squad v New Zealand: Jesse Mogg; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, James O’Connor; Matt Toomua Will Genia; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Hugh McMeniman, James Horwill (C), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.
Subs: Saia Faingaa, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani.