By Alan Dymock
THE PRESSURE on Will Genia and James Horwill may be great as we slide towards the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, but not for the reasons many would expect.
On Saturday, as the Waratahs crashed against the wild Brumbies of Canberra in the Super 15, Test hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau took a knee with a broken forearm. It was a worrying sight for Australian fans who had already seen world-class poacher David Pocock write himself off for the upcoming Test series.
More so than just missing personnel, though, Australia may suffer because of their lack of big characters.
Talking to Rugby World yesterday, Wallaby and Waratahs prop Benn Robinson said: “Tafu [Polota-Nau] is the biggest character of them all and he is different to a lot of people. Losing him is not good news.”
Squads need big personalities to lead and to tie them together. The Lions have already spoken about this and the importance of bonding. So while Genia and Horwill are stronger than a moonshine milkshake in terms of leadership, the Wallaby squad could well be that little bit more vulnerable to splintering without their chuckle brothers and drop-goal divas to laugh at and lean on.
Polota-Nau will most likely be replaced in the Australian 25-man squad that was announced on Sunday, though no concrete date has been set for pulling players out of the Super 15. So there will be no Tafu, no Quade Cooper and no Kurtley Beale. It is likely that George Smith, also injured in that Aussie derby and likely to miss the next three games out of the remaining four regular season games, has missed his window to impress Robbie Deans and squeeze into the squad to face the Lions as one of the extra six players, to be announced on June 10.
However, much like the theory that as soon as a space opens up in the Lions contingent Jonny Wilkinson will be flown out, there is a suggestion that enigmatic playmaker Cooper will be slotted in as one of the six additional Wallabies once he has proved his defensive worth to Deans during the Queensland Reds game against the Lions on June 8.
For Robinson, though, it is Beale’s personality and sublime talent that may be missed most.
“To not have Kurtley in the 25 is massive,” the prop said. “To pull out to address personal issues is honourable, but to look at it from a rugby perspective; of course you want him.
“If you look at the great try he scored against Wales last year to win the game he has the talent. He is still in line to make the extra six.”
As it stands there are plenty of questions about Deans’ additions.
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Beale may feel he has pushed his demons back into the bottle and make the six. Cooper may show the elusive and unlabled ‘stuff’ that Deans needs to see and earn a recall. Polota-Nau and Smith may cause scientists and doctors to faint with amazement due to their stitch-popping, rapid recovery.
If none of this comes off, though,it could be a dry, serious, driven camp that faces the Lions, and it remains to be seen whether that will be more dangerous to the tourists or whether it means the hosts are that little bit weaker at the seams.