WALLABIES coach Robbie Deans has opted for a mix of creativity, experience and fire in his line-up for their opening Tri Nations match against South Africa at Subiaco Oval on Saturday.
While the recall of LoteTuqiri, WycliffPalu and Nathan Sharpe was expected after they had overcome minor injuries which forced them out of the second France Test, the move to start with George Smith ahead of Phil Waugh, and the elevation of TatafuPolota-Nau to the reserves bench indicates the importance of the Wallabies being inventive.
Deans indicated as much, shortly after announcing the team in Perth yesterday.
“I hope that’s the outcome,” Deans said. “We have to play. We won’t be able to be conservative against a side that has the physical capabilities of the South Africans, and get home. The key will be to keep them busy, with the traffic going the other way.”
In the end, the most difficult selection issues involved how physical the pack should be, with the Wallabies extremely eager to include their dynamic second-rower Dan Vickerman if he were available. However, Vickerman’s ankle is not yet 100 per cent, prompting Sharpe’s return, and Hugh McMeniman on the bench.
The unfortunate casualty is Waratahs second-rower/back-rower Dean Mumm, who drops out of the 22-man squad after starting against France in Brisbane. Mumm, who has impressed the Wallabies hierarchy, would have remained in the squad had Deans opted for five forwards on the bench but instead went for four, with McMeniman getting the final forwards spot.
However, the strongest sign in the squad selection is that Polota-Nau is heading towards a greater involvement in the Wallabies set-up. Polota-Nau, the most dynamic and talented of the Australian hookers, had been unavailable for the opening three Tests after breaking a bone in his hand.
Last weekend, Polota-Nau again showed his versatility when playing for Parramatta in the Sydney grade competition against Southern Districts, spending 30 minutes at loose-head prop.
Polota-Nau yesterday admitted he was surprised he was able to hold up the scrum, and was physically drained at full-time, but if asked to do it again, he “would help out”.
However, he stressed that he preferred playing hooker, and Deans is already a fan of his work in the middle of the scrum.
“Tatafu offers us a point of difference off the bench, particularly his foot speed and carry ability,” Deans said.
The new coach also warned the Wallabies they will be confronting a Springboks team that had improved markedly since their 2007 World Cup triumph. Beating the All Blacks in Dunedin last weekend will only amplify the South African’s self-belief.
“That win gives them a sense of composure, and a deep-seated belief,” Deans said. “Obviously, Victor Matfield’s return has been pretty invaluable to that because he’s a player who brings composure to a group. You only have to see how he manages a lineout. Nothing troubles him.”
The Boks, meanwhile, were playing down their chances, with coach Peter de Villiers arguing they know nothing about the Wallabies. “The Australians haven’t played for two weeks, and when they played, the old laws governed the game,” he said.
WALLABIES: A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes, S Mortlock (c), B Barnes, L Tuqiri; M Giteau, L Burgess; W Palu, G Smith, R Elsom, N Sharpe, J Horwill, A Baxter, S Moore, B Robinson. Res: T Polota-Nau, M Dunning, H McMeniman, P Waugh, S Cordingley, R Cross, D Mitchell.