McKenzie takes gamble on Cooper off the bench

A few days before the third Test between the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions, I chatted with Graham Henry, the great All Blacks coach. I suggested that accurate selection goes 90 per cent of the way to ensuring a winning coach. Henry pondered on my assertion, and then told me: ”Spiro, I would make good selecting about 75 per cent in achieving success as a coach.”
Nanjing Night Net

Henry went on to praise Warren Gatland for his shrewdness and bravery in dumping Brian O’Driscoll and opting for the big Welsh centres, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. British rugby writers were so hostile to this selection that they predicted the end of Gatland’s coaching career if the Lions were defeated. It is part of rugby history now that the big Welsh centres monstered the smaller Wallabies backs. 75 out of 75 for Gatland.

And, it is also part of rugby history that Robbie Deans, generally a shrewd selector, made a selection error in continuing to play James O’Connor as the Wallabies number 10 in the last Lions Test. Greg Martin even suggested that Deans was somehow playing the Trojan Horse for New Zealand rugby in not selecting Quade Cooper. The Wallaby squad to play the All Blacks on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium was announced at 3.30pm on Thursday. And, astonishingly, Cooper was in the squad but relegated to the subs bench. Given the fact that Ewen McKenzie’s campaign to become Wallaby coach was based on a Quade-led revival, this was a selection gamble in the Gatland class of risk.

The starting five-eighth is Matt Toomua. The theory is that Toomua will take the initial pressure from the All Blacks and when the game opens up then Cooper will come on to run the visitors ragged with his outrageously brilliant plays and ploys. The suggestion was also made that this left-field selection will ”shock” the All Blacks who have been preparing to apply pressure on Cooper at the beginning of the Test.

The NZ Herald published an interview with the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday, just hours before McKenzie’s bombshell announcement, where he predicted Toomua’s selection and also that the Wallaby backs would play a Brumbies-type rush defence to put the All Blacks under pressure. So much for the surprise element.

The other interesting selection in McKenzie’s first Wallaby side is his front five: James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons and James Horwill. Moore and Horwill are the only strong scrummers in this unit. When he was asked about the new scrum regulations that de-power the hit and require more scrumming technique from players, McKenzie said at his media conference that the scrum was only part of the game and that he looked for other things from his props in general play.

The experienced Benn Robinson, a strong scrumming prop, has been dropped from the squad because his play around the field is not effective.

The All Black selectors have gone the other way with their front row. They have discarded Dane Coles, a hooker who plays with the verve of a flanker, and selected two veterans, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock. Luke Romano is in the second row ahead of Brodie Retallick because, as Hansen explained, Romano had played last week’s practice games against Wellington and Canterbury.

The inference here is that the All Blacks expect scrums to be physically torrid affairs.

McKenzie has picked an exciting squad, despite the fears about the toughness of the front five. There are five uncapped players in it. One of them, Toomua, is a starter. There are 10 Brumbies, a reward for that team’s splendid season in defeating the Lions and almost defeating the Chiefs in the Super Rugby final. There are some strong runners in the forwards. The side has enough pace and strength in the back four to trouble even the formidable All Blacks defence.

I would give McKenzie 70 out of 75 for the selection of his squad. Scott Sio, the best scrumming prop in Australian, should be a starter. But the other crucial 25 points, which relate to the implementation of the game plan, will be decided on Saturday night.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation