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Rudd passes the Danii test with aplomb – not so his man in Swan

Kevin Rudd and Perth fitness model Danii Alexis. Photo: Andrew MearesFull election coverageComment: No appeal in those with bulldust for brainsComment: A suppository of sex appeal

”Sex appeal” are dirty words in election 2013.

So the entrance of Danii Alexis, a Perth fitness model, into the glare of the campaign had to be handled with extreme care by Kevin Rudd.

The Prime Minister was clearly taken with Alexis.

”Hi, Danii,” he purred.

Rudd remained clear of the most obvious pitfall in his path, maintaining a gentlemanly line of sight. However, his candidate for Swan, John Bissett, failed the test – as pictures would later show. His gaze was last seen on the tiled floor of the Westfield Carousel shopping centre in suburban Perth.

Rudd’s stinging rebuke of Tony Abbott over the Opposition Leader’s sex appeal gaffe was instantly left looking decidedly hollow, as some of his campaign strategists had feared when he launched the assault.

Speaking later, Alexis described the resulting pictures as ”cheeky” and said she had no problem with their being published. ”I’m a fitness model and I go in competitions where you have 10 judges marking your body in competition,” she said.

Alexis, who was working on the counter of a raw nutrition stall at Westfield, was one of hundreds of shoppers and shopkeepers keen to get between an iPhone and the PM.

Rudd is desperate for a bounce in the polls and proof he can still charm a retail crowd is an invaluable image for his team.

Earlier, at a CSIRO research centre, Rudd looked less assured than when working the public.

Things started badly, with Education Minister Bill Shorten giving a glimpse into just how exhaustive the planning of Rudd’s Northern Territory tax break had been. That is, he had never heard of it until the PM announced it in Darwin.

Rudd said his Treasurer, Chris Bowen, and Finance Minister, Penny Wong, were consulted but the belief among the busload of media is that this is likely to have been during a rushed phone hook-up somewhere between Jupiters Casino, Townsville, where the Rudd camp bunkered down earlier this week, and Darwin.

As Rudd left Carousel, news broke that star recruit Peter Beattie was looking an outside chance to even make it to Canberra, with other must-win marginals also looking doubtful.

Despite this, Rudd’s main advisers said he had a better week this week than last. A clearer choice between him and Abbott had developed.

“We’re focusing in all the time on the different choices on offer,” said a Rudd operative.

Perhaps things will start to look up. Whatever happens, Mr Bissett should be given the message to always look up.

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Rohan answers need for speed

Red-letter day: Gary Rohan reflects on his path back from a broken leg. Photo: Anthony Johnson Photo: Anthony JohnsonThat which does not kill us makes us stronger, and so it has proven for Sydney young gun Gary Rohan who, in one of the best feel-good stories of the season, is making his AFL comeback on Sunday.

Rohan was already lightning fast before he broke his leg nearly 16 months ago but, in an ominous sign for the Swans’ finals rivals, he’s even quicker now.

There had been fears the 22-year-old’s electrifying pace, his greatest weapon, would be dulled but the time spent strengthening muscles in his upper body and legs may have produced an even more powerful athlete.

”I feel more explosive when I take off,” Rohan said. ”I’m a lot stronger than last year.”

Rohan, with his new-found pace, is shaping as a potential ace up Sydney’s sleeve in their premiership defence if he can make a successful transition back to the big time.

”There wouldn’t be many blokes faster than Lewis Jetta, but he’s probably one of them,” Sydney coach John Longmire said.

”That’s been really exciting to see. So he gives that great speed to the team, he’s a fantastic chaser and tackler. He puts on real pressure in our forward half. But we’re also mindful that whatever he gives the team this year he’ll be better again next year.”

It has been a rocky road back for Rohan, who at the start of the season still walked with a limp. His goal for this year was humble – he just wanted to be able to run again.

When he could run without favouring a leg he sat down with the medical and coaching staff, and the curtain-raiser to the game against GWS was earmarked as his return to competitive football.

The instructions from Longmire were simple – just enjoy playing again. But once he stepped on to the field his form exceeded not only his expectations but those of the club.

”I thought I would struggle for the last half of this year but I went out there and completely forgot about my injury and focused on my footy,” Rohan said.

Equally as important, Rohan was able to withstand the stresses of playing and training despite such a long time out of the game.

”I surprised myself with how I pulled up after games, I thought I hadn’t been playing for a year [and] I’d struggle,” Rohan said.

”Pre-season, you come back and your first game in the NAB Cup you pull up really sore. I didn’t pull up sore at all in the first four games, so hopefully that’s still the same.”

Rohan has been nagging Longmire the past three weeks to pick him in the seniors and he was granted his wish on Tuesday. ”We announced it downstairs in front of the players and to be honest he was probably a little bit emotional,” Longmire said. ”He kept telling me for the last three weeks to pick him and I’ve ignored him to a certain degree, but I think when we finally said, ‘OK mate, you’re in’, I think it did hit him in terms of how much work he’s been able to do.

”Blokes like [Fremantle midfielder] Michael Barlow and others across the competition [who suffered badly broken legs] we’ve seen over the years are probably the only ones that can fully understand the amount of work and challenges that Gary has faced.”

The affable redhead’s return will be a boost for the Swans’ morale for the business end of the season.

”There are not too many players who get a standing ovation when they come back and start playing again in the reserves, so that’s the esteem he’s held in around the footy club,” Longmire said.

”He’s just a really popular kid and he’s really upbeat and gets around the place and is a really good person to be around.”

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Champion Geale enjoys his status as underdog

The wings and cross tattooed on the back of world middleweight champion Daniel Geale are for ”protection”, but, typical of the fighter known as the sport’s nicest guy they’re not to shield him from the punches Britain’s Darren Barker will throw in their fight on Sunday.

From his ocean-front room in a swish casino resort in far-off New Jersey, Geale revealed the skin art was to protect his family.

”The cross and the wings is a family theme,” Geale said. ”It is something I had done many years ago … it’s like protection for my family … it’s nice and personal, but I also think they look pretty cool.”

Who’s going to argue? After all, Geale, the International Boxing Federation’s champion, lays claim to being perhaps the world’s best middleweight. And, as a long list of opponents including Anthony Mundine alongside the Germans Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester learned the hard way, you pity the fool who underestimates him.

Barker, who enjoys a seven centimetre height advantage and boxes to perpetuate the memory of his brother, who was killed in a car crash seven years ago, seemed to have fallen into the same trap. He made it painfully aware he viewed Geale as his golden chance to become champion, while the Londoner’s trainer, Tony Sims, started to plan his fighter’s mandatory defences against British fighters Martin Murray, Andy Lee and Matthew Macklin long before a punch was thrown in anger.

”I’m not worried about anything my opponent might say,” Geale, a father of three, said. ”Actually, the more he says, the better it is for me. When they talk it up, it’s really their doubt talking. I have confidence in myself, and the more they try to insult me, try and put me off the game, it’s actually good, because it’s their energy being wasted.”

Geale, who had also held the WBA and IBO versions of the middleweight belt, has been the perennial underdog ever since he laced on the gloves for his first amateur bout in Launceston as a 10-year-old against Mickey Streets, a likely lad who was two years older and stronger. ”He beat me. I actually lost my first two fights but I fought Micky again in my third one and beat him.”

The Tasmanian has made a habit of beating his more fancied rivals ever since. And it has followed the same, methodical formula ever since he was, by his own admission, an ”under-developed” 15-year-old pitted against men who were far bigger, more confident and definitely more imposing.

”At 15 or 16 I hadn’t developed and I fought blokes who looked like monsters,” he said. ”I fought men with muscles bulging from everywhere. I remember I fought a Samoan in Tasmania, and while we fought at 71 kilos he looked like he was 91. He clouted me with a big right hand in the first round and I thought it was over there and then, but I stuck to it and beat him quite comfortably in the end.”

He says there was no bruising of his ego in being viewed as, for want of a better word, ”easy” by his opponents. Geale’s record displays a 50 per cent KO rate, while he has won a high proportion of his fights that have gone the distance.

”Barker will believe he has ‘it’ to win the fight and win the title,” he said knowingly. ”I like my opponents going in confident, and in most cases they do. However, when they get in there they realise it’s different. I’ve been overlooked in the past, considered the underdog despite being the champion, but it’s a position I like. I like the other guy being a little bit confident and cocky and expecting to win, because I know when the fight starts it’ll be different.”

Geale, however, acknowledged Barker was a good fighter, just as the Germans Sylvester and Sturm were when he marched into their backyards and humbled them. He learned to read the tell-tale signs of when his stinging and relentless barrages had knocked the confidence out of them.

”The breathing and the body language changes,” Geale said. ”You can tell by the breathing – it gets much heavier.

”If they were confident and coming forward but they then change tactics and move backwards, you know they’re in trouble.”

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Hasler to have the final say on whether Barba will leave early

Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle says coach Des Hasler will probably have the final say on whether Ben Barba is granted an early release.

As revealed by Fairfax Media, Barba’s management lodged a written request for a release a fortnight ago to allow him to reunite with his family in Queensland.

The Dally M medallist’s partner, Ainslie Currie, is looking for properties somewhere between Brisbane and the Gold Coast with a view to settling closer to her family. Barba, the father of two young children, is hoping to repair his relationship with Currie and relocate with her.

In a statement released by the club, Barba said: “I’m really close to my daughters and working hard on my relationship. Their move to Brisbane would create a difficult situation for me to be in playing football in Sydney, which I hope people can understand.

“I thank the Bulldogs for their willingness to engage in discussions around releasing me from my contract and thank them for the support they have shown me throughout this process, and throughout my career with the Bulldogs.”

The situation is a delicate one for Bulldogs officials. They have helped Barba through a difficult period in his personal life and realise his happiness is the key to stability on and off the field. But they are wary of handing their best and most popular player to Brisbane, the club most likely to be the beneficiary should a compassionate release be granted.

Castle said Hasler, who has stood by the 24-year-old through the ups and downs of the past 18 months, could ultimately determine whether they enforce the remaining two years of his contract.

”Definitely, he probably has the lead opinion in this whole process,” she said. ”It’s important for him to be comfortable, whether it be a team with Ben or a team without Ben.”

The decision could ultimately come down to how they can replace the local junior. Attempts to poach NSW custodian Josh Dugan from the Dragons were unsuccessful, while the club has made no secret of its desire to attract Israel Folau back to the NRL.

Castle denied she was in negotiations with the Wallabies star or any other player. ”We are working through a process, he’s [Barba] obviously contracted to the club for two more years,” she said.

”We have to make sure that we’re comfortable, that we look after Ben to ensure he’s in a good space and that we consider all of our fans in this. It’s a process at its beginning, not at its end, and there’s more to go before we get an outcome.

”I don’t know what the end is going to look like. We want to get a resolution to ensure all the parties are happy and it takes as long as it takes.”

Several Bulldogs fans attacked Barba on Twitter over his desire to leave the club.

Barba bit back, adding a thumbs up symbol on a retweet: ”BiLLyBoiiiiii: @BenBarba03 hahaha yeah laugh u arrogant Lil prik.”

Barba also returned serve when he was compared with Dugan, who shifted to the Dragons after being axed by Canberra: ”No not at all I’m not the one frustrated here “@omz85: @BenBarba03 doing a josh Dugan are lol what’s wrong Benny fans getting too ya.”

Barba was subjected to vile references to his daughter, to which he responded: ”Big man you are writing about my kids u fool. Be a man and come see me.”

Should the Bulldogs relent but fail to nab Folau – or another big-name replacement – there is every chance Josh Morris will be considered for the role on a full-time basis.

While Hasler has named Sam Perrett in the No.1 jersey since Barba suffered an ankle injury against Parramatta, Morris has been the custodian. After being preferred in favour of Perrett, Krisnan Inu and Drury Lowe for the gig, Morris joked that no man says no to Hasler.

”I think everyone is too scared to say no to Des,” he said earlier this month. ”I said I would do whatever is best for the team and if, in the time being that means playing fullback, then that’s an added bonus because it’ll get me a lot fitter having to run those extra kilometres every game.”

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Dogs’ decline began with grand final loss

NOW, officially, the Bulldogs will ponder life without Ben Barba as they consider a release for their star fullback. Speculation has become reality. Barba wants out.

Barba’s official request for a release is the latest in a long line of troubles to have beset the Bulldogs this year. Perhaps it is the most significant of them. Yet they have grown used to playing without him; his absences have book-ended this season.

How have they fared, though? Not bad, but not particularly well either. Certainly not what many expected of them after they won the minor premiership last year before falling to Melbourne Storm in the grand final.

In examining the Bulldogs’ season so far and taking a glimpse of a likely future without the fullback, it becomes clear that ANZ Stadium on September 30 last year – the high point of the club for some time – was also where it began to unravel.

The grand final against Melbourne last year was the Bulldogs’ best chance to win a premiership since they last won the title in 2004. But some might argue it was the beginning of the end of their prospects this year. The Storm had a blueprint for defeating the Dogs, and it revolved around shutting down Barba.

Easier said than done, of course, but it was no coincidence that one of Barba’s poorer games last year came against that year’s best side.

Barba was superb across the course of last season. He scored tries which couldn’t be scored by anyone else and stopped tries when they appeared inevitable. He won the Dally M Medal, and had the rest of the competition in awe of his sparkling feet and remarkable talent.

He was also the fulcrum for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ attack last year was revolutionary, centring on 100 kilogram-plus front-rowers at first receiver ball-playing, yet much of it relied on one man wrapping around the back and making it happen; the fullback. Many believe the position has become the most important in any team and they can make that argument based on Barba’s influence last year. He was without doubt the most influential player in the competition. And when he hasn’t been there this year – or has been down in form – they have struggled.

In the grand final, Melbourne denied him the space he had been used to. Melbourne’s forwards worked hard from the inside, their edge defenders rushed the fullback and, as a result, he had little impact in a 14-4 defeat. Opposing coaches would have watched and learnt, taking the Storm’s blueprint into this year.

Some have been surprised that the Bulldogs’ radical game of last year, when the likes of James Graham and Sam Kasiano shifted the ball wide to the playmakers, has not been replicated to the same extent this season. The use of props as playmakers took pressure off the halves and also took much of the competition by surprise. The element of surprise is gone this year, however, as is the effectiveness of the tactic.

”Other teams didn’t know what was going on, but this year they’ve become a bit predictable,” former Bulldogs premiership coach Chris Anderson said.

As a result, the Bulldogs’ yardage has been down, which has put more pressure on their kicking game. Those two front-rowers have been sidelined at stages during this season – as has Barba – and the fullback’s form has not been near where it was.

Des Hasler had dialled back that radical shift in approach this year, but in recent weeks, the team has shown a desire to use it more often.

That trend is likely to continue. But whether it can be as successful as it was last year remains to be seen. An in-form Barba was, and still is, a key to it. ”What we’ve seen this year is Canterbury without Ben Barba,” one insider said, ominously.

Even when he has been playing, Barba has not been the player he was. That has been as easy to see from the grandstand or the lounge room as it has been from Hasler’s monitor, which spits out hours of vision of his star player.

By this stage last season, Barba had not missed a match. In 20 appearances, he had scored 17 tries, and produced as many try assists. On top of those impressive statistics, he had 21 line breaks to his name, four line-break assists, and 126 tackle breaks.

This season, he is ahead in only one of those areas. In 15 matches, he has scored 10 tries, produced three try assists, along with 11 line breaks, six line-break assists and 62 tackle breaks. He hasn’t been the same, and the Bulldogs have struggled.

Others argue Barba’s lack of impact has been a result of the Bulldogs forwards not laying the platform, rather than the other way around. It is a ”chicken or the egg” debate.

Anderson is one who believes Barba’s form this year has come as a result of others’ inability to dominate. ”I don’t think the forwards have set the platform that they used to set,” Anderson said. ”Ben Barba is only going to play well when the forwards set the platform. I thought they’d be a grand final side again. They were tremendous last year. It was all new. And they had intensity last year. But they’ve struggled with that a bit.”

Barba is not the only key player to spend time on the sidelines. Graham was out of the side due to suspension in the early months, while Kasiano, Krisnan Inu and Frank Pritchard have all been out for extended periods.

Kasiano and Greg Eastwood are unlikely to return until the finals, by which time the damage might already have been done. The Bulldogs are almost certain to miss out on the top four, which is a significant blow. No AFL team has come from outside the top four to win that sport’s premiership under the finals system which the NRL has adopted.

Graham’s absence, for a bite on Billy Slater, adds more weight to the theory their downfall began in the grand final. On top of that, teams have lifted against them, knowing they were playing competition heavyweights.

”Every week is a massive contest,” said former Bulldogs skipper Andrew Ryan, who experienced something similar after winning the premiership in 2004. ”Teams see you as the benchmark, every team does their homework on them, and that’s why you give credit to the teams who have been at the top for so long, like Manly and Melbourne.”

Ryan and others argue the Bulldogs have done quite well to be in the position they are, given their slow start to the season. They won just one match over the opening six rounds, and have been up against it most of the season.

”I expected them to start a bit slow,” Ryan said. ”But they’ve been finding their groove.

”I’ve been pretty impressed with a fair few of their performances. I think they can still give it a good shake. I wouldn’t discount them.”

They remain up against it. Which, really, is just how they like it.

Hasler will love what has been written above, knowing that his team has been written off by many. But he will hate what follows. He, and they, are capable of recovering. It remains unlikely, but if there is one coach in the competition who relishes adversity, it is Hasler, who has seen a bit of it at Manly and the Bulldogs. He also relishes underdog status.

His famous ”under the radar” comments have become a source of amusement now, but Hasler genuinely enjoys the scenario of only being rated by the people within the walls of a club. ”This is right up his alley,” one insider said.

His alley is a strange place, of course, but you cannot fault his work ethic. Players talk of Hasler being the first person they see when they arrive at training and the last person they see when they leave. Hasler leaves his home on the northern beaches just after 5am to beat the traffic and arrives at Belmore about 6am. He rarely leaves the office before 5pm.

The Bulldogs strategic analyst Luke Gooden expects the occasional 6am call – Hasler telling him which video he wants cut and sent to him and the players, via their club-issue iPads.

The ground-floor meeting room at Belmore, where Hasler watches most of his videos, is for much of the day occupied – when the door is closed and the light on inside, Bulldogs staff don’t need to be able to see through the frosted glass windows to know who is inside.

Hasler was there on Tuesday, following the loss to the Gold Coast. The players all know if they miss a tackle, or are lazy on the inside, Hasler will eventually know about it.

”He would know what size shoes you’re wearing,” one club insider said. However Hasler rarely offers criticism without a positive message.

He is constantly looking for an edge. One of his latest is a wrestling room, near the railway tracks at Belmore Sports Ground. Hasler decided he didn’t want his team practising wrestling manoeuvres on grass, so he pitched the idea of the wrestling room – then helped lay the mats himself. He is hands on and likes to remain in control.

Which is why he has not enjoyed much of the malaise at the club this year – it has been out of his control; Barba’s absence and injuries. But Hasler knows that the Bulldogs’ destiny, for now, remains in his – and their – hands, starting against Canberra on Saturday night.

For all the talk of underachieving, and despite playing nowhere near their potential for most of the season, they are still fifth.

Barba might be the X-factor on the field, but Hasler is the X-factor off it. While they might not have one for long – and are now planning for life after him – they still have the other.

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True test is turning winning into success

Dual role: Ewen McKenzie must win hearts and minds as well as games. Photo: Marco Del GrandeSteve Hansen rarely misses. After seeing off his former Crusaders associate Robbie Deans, who was as easily provoked as a petrified tree stump, the All Blacks coach has been flinging everything he has at Ewen McKenzie.

”Mentally challenged” by the five-eighth dilemma, feeling the ”pressure” to produce in his first Test, and battling to ”trust” the players he relied on in Queensland were the best of the barbs thrown out by Hansen this week.

Problem is, the new Wallabies coach has his eye on a bigger prize.

There is a large drinking receptacle to win back during the next fortnight, sure. The Bledisloe Cup, or its decade-long absence, is the thorn in the side of Australian rugby and McKenzie feels it more than most.

But winning isn’t everything, McKenzie asserts. More accurately, it doesn’t guarantee success. In his 10-year absence from the Wallabies coaching set-up, the former town planner-turned-Test prop has watched rugby move perilously close to niche status in the pantheon of Australian sport.

So while Hansen can heap on the pressure, it’s not the sort that McKenzie responds to.

”I’ve seen how the machine works, I understand that results are important and you never get away from that,” he says two days before his first team runs out at ANZ Stadium.

”But that’s the rugby success and I think success takes different forms at different stages and it is wider than just winning. I’m interested in winning games but I’m also interested in the game being a success against its competitors in Australia and that’s a battle that has to be fought on many fronts. Winning helps, clearly, but you still have to turn those wins into success.”

Many a well-intentioned administrator has tried to ”save” rugby, but coaches have not always had to pre-occupy themselves with winning hearts and minds as well as games. It appears to be a dimension to modern coaching that is here to stay where rugby in Australia is concerned.

”I know where rugby sits at the moment and I’m very interested in that,” McKenzie says. ”I think my job is wider than coaching a team, I think it’s more about influencing the landscape. I have a genuine rugby task on the weekend but I’m also interested in the other parts and being able to influence the game nationally.”

A good, hard dent in the All Blacks’ ego wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

McKenzie believes he is better equipped than most to make that happen, having coached the Reds to solid success against the New Zealand Super Rugby sides, played and beat them as a Wallaby and been part of Australia’s last Bledisloe Cup win in 2002.

He has started by dismantling the myth. One by one, the McKenzie-coached Wallabies have talked about the All Blacks as Super Rugby players from New Zealand this week. ”History is history,” captain James Horwill said of the sides’ Test ledger over the years. Come game time, Jesse Mogg might be visualising winger Ben Smith in his blue and green Highlanders jersey as he flies in for the tackle.

”The emotional piece is there, that’s inevitable, but you have to keep part of it pragmatic,” McKenzie says. ”There’s no escaping you have some of the best players in the world running around opposite you but we do play against them often and that’s worked out favourably for us many times.”

Recent history says McKenzie might pull it off on Saturday night. Former coaches Deans, John Connolly and Rod Macqueen came out winners after their first Test matches, while Bob Dwyer and Eddie Jones felt the dead weight of pressure from the final bell.

”Come late Saturday night something will have happened and people will be commenting but that cycle goes on,” McKenzie says. ”And regardless of what happens on Saturday night there’s another big game a week later. I’ve learnt that much. If you accept the responsibility you have to take the good and bad; all you can do is back your methods and approach.”

There are always friends like Hansen, ready to land a blow. British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland, back in the chair at the Welsh Rugby Union, will have a few trademark, soft-spoken slapdowns ready in the European autumn, too.

McKenzie knows it’s lonely at the top. After building and executing one hell of a game plan to land himself the plum Wallabies job, delivering is his only option.

”I got a nice letter from [Springboks coach] Heineke Meyer the other day congratulating me on the job,” McKenzie says. ”Heineke and I go way back, it’s an interesting journey for all of the guys in different positions. It’s not an easy life but at the end of the day you don’t have to do it, you don’t have to put your hand up for it. If you do put your hand up for it you just have to do it.”

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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.”

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.

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Highs and lows, cheers and boos – all part of the demanding job

Bob Dwyer: July 4, 1982, v Scotland, Brisbane Scotland 12 def Wallabies 7

One of my most vivid recollections of that Test was the sad memory of a Queensland rugby crowd booing the Wallabies as they ran on the pitch because of the inclusion of [Randwick players] Mark and Glen Ella and the exclusion of [local heroes] Paul McLean and Roger Gould, which was sad in the extreme. I can’t remember being nervous but what I can remember on reflection was that I certainly tried to do too much too soon. Back then three days was all you had for your Test preparation with the team, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I probably didn’t prepare the team well. The Wallabies forward pack who were all Queenslanders were outplayed by Scotland but perhaps a major contributing factor to that was that they were worn out from the practice. In the preparation for the second Test, I was much, much lighter with the forwards in their preparation and in fact gave them one day off and concentrated on the backs. I was a bit naive and thought I could change the world in three days and I found out you couldn’t.

Rod Macqueen: November 1, 1997, v Argentina, Beunos Aires Wallabies 23 def Pumas 15

It was probably tougher that my first Test as Wallabies coach was an away game. Having said that, it was against Argentina and not the All Blacks. But the reality is we lost the next Test and losing that next one probably contributed more to the thinking and direction of the side than the first Test did, because it pointed out a lot of the frailties in our game plan and team. It also showed me how fine the line is between looking for longer term achievement and the more immediate goal of beating the opposition. A lot of the things we were concentrating on in Argentina were the part of the long term project and had I had the time again I might have concentrated a bit more on winning that second Test than thinking too far ahead. You’re always nervous leading into these matches but you have to try to keep that out of it. Your role is to be as calm as possible and make decisions that are actually going to help the team. The team knows if they’re losing at half-time, what you have to tell them is what they have to do to win.

Eddie Jones: July 28, 2001, v Springboks, Loftus Versfeld Springboks 20 def Wallabies 15

It was a difficult time because players had just come off the Lions series, the players were reasonably tired and there was a change in coach. John Eales had told me that week that he was going to retire at the end of the series, so it was an interesting week trying to get the team up for the game while knowing myself that their captain was on his way out.

The only thing that changes as national coach is after the game. If you win, it’s fantastic but if you lose, everyone knows about it and the pressure is enormous. The South Africa, New Zealand and England jobs are the only ones that have as much pressure on them as the Australian job. Over our Test history, we’ve averaged a 52 per cent win rate so you’re going to lose four out of every 10 games. That’s a reality you have to deal with. Then there’s the media pressure and the pressure you find from people outside. You lose your personal life over that period.

John Connolly: June 11, 2006, v England, Telstra Stadium Wallabies 34 def England 3

We met a really experienced England side in this Test. Since taking over the coaching we’d spent a lot of time discussing where Australia was at. The same side had played for a number of years, they were getting older and we knew we had to make some hard decisions. We’d lost seven or eight games in a row if I remember correctly so we thought we couldn’t do the same thing again. We changed the whole front row, bringing in Rodney Blake, Greg Holmes and Tai McIsaac. We stayed out at Homebush the night before and I remember watching those three walking around in shorts and thongs the day of the match thinking ‘I am sure people don’t realise this is the Australian front row’. It’s always important to win. Practising losing is not fun at all. You make decisions about how you’re going to play the game … but it is very different when you are running the whole show. You have the final say on everything, the buck stops with you.

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Tuqiri not ready to bow out yet as return looms

Lote Tuqiri will play his first NRL game in over a year when Wests Tigers take on the Sydney Roosters on Monday night and, despite the uncertainty of his future, the veteran declared it will not be his last game.

The 33-year-old winger has not played for the joint-venture club since breaking his arm against the Bulldogs in round 18 last season. His time away from the field has made him determined not to leave the game quietly.

Tuqiri said on Friday he believes he still has a lot to offer the Tigers and plans to play beyond this season.

He still doesn’t know which club that will be with as his contract with the Tigers is yet to be renewed.

”It’s not going to be my swansong, I’m going to keep playing. Where that will be, I don’t know, but it definitely won’t be my swansong,” Tuqiri said. ”I wanted to go out on my terms. I’ve had a pretty good career but, obviously, the last couple of years have been pretty tough for me injury-wise. I knew I had something to give, something to offer to this footy team. If I didn’t, I would have given up by now.”

The early months after his near career-ending injury tested his willingness to continue playing. Tuqiri admits the prospect of the curtains closing on his playing days was difficult to face.

The thought of hanging up his boots crossed his mind on more than one occasion but the support of his teammates and his two young children gave him the mental strength to return to the field.

”You don’t see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. You start questioning the motivation and when you get up for training, it’s 7am and it’s really cold, you think you might as well stay home today,” Tuqiri said. ”It’s been pretty dark I must admit. The last month we have not been able to get near the finals but, other than that, the boys have been really good. When I go home its just the same because I’ve got two young boys. You can’t afford to be down. They make it a hell of a lot easier to be around.”

Tuqiri will start on the left wing on Monday night in place of the injured Marika Koroibete.

Meanwhile, the Tigers horrid run of form has detracted the spectacle of Braith Anasta playing against his former team. The veteran player said he was too consumed with changing his club’s fortunes to take notice of a match-up against the Roosters.

After seven seasons with the Tricolours, Anasta will take on his former club for the first time in a competitive match but hasn’t given the occasion much thought due to the stress of the Tigers five-match losing streak

”I can’t really look beyond our backyard here at the moment cos we’re doing it tough and we’re playing the best team in the comp,” Anasta said.

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Russia’s stance should come as no surprise

Dinkus of Darren Kane in Sydney.16th August 2013Photo: Janie Barrett Photo: Janie Barrett JEMLaw is not a science. Its practice involves the dark art of answering vexed questions: just as it is a compelling proposition that the AFL must bear its formidable teeth at Essendon for its alleged role in marking this year as the sport’s annus horribilis lest the integrity of the competition be tarnished; in equal measure it seems premature and unusual to seek to sanction James Hird, or anyone else, absent finalising the very investigation that serves as the evidentiary bedrock for the charges laid.

Playing devil’s advocate, and taking up unpopular or absurd arguments, do however have their limits. In an effective reversal of its 1993 decriminalisation of homosexuality, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his final assent earlier this year to a raft of new national laws including establishing unfettered powers for police to arrest and detain tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual or ”pro-gay”; introducing a deliberately imprecise prohibition against the distribution of ”propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors (thus federalising the laws already enacted in parts of Russia as early as 2006); and placing a blanket ban on the adoption of orphans by Russian gay couples or any person from any country in which marriage equality exists.

The Russian government has in recent weeks most helpfully clarified that it will apply these new regulations during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and hence will not hesitate to arrest anybody suspected of violating the laws.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has, perhaps in his own inimitable way, sought to temper any fears in saying ”an athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi”.

Looked through any prism, Russia’s laws are a throwback to wicked Stalinist policy. This toxicity is though viciously amplified by the illumination of the sporting spotlight. These are heady times for Russia as an international host.

Moscow is now hosting the athletics world championships, which conclude on Sunday. Since hosting rights were awarded to Sochi in 2007, Putin has spent a mere $52 billion preparing to host the world’s best winter athletes next year. In five years’ time, Russia plays host to the FIFA World Cup.

Outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge has in recent weeks and by equal measure both sought that Russia clarify what its laws mean, and lamented that the regulations pose more of an interpretation issue than anything else.

Rogge is adamant the laws will have no effect on the Games, as if such a reassurance is an antidote to the problem. Alas, the power of gentle words and quiet diplomacy to quell absurdity and the fear the parents of young athletes might harbour for the safety of their children competing in Sochi.

There is utility in the IOC reminding itself of its own Olympic Charter, which operates as the constitutional spine of the Olympic movement, the constituency of which includes both the Russian Olympic committee and the Sochi organising committee. In the quintessential motherhood statement, the Charter’s fundamental goal is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

The Charter codifies principles that include the right of each individual to practice sport free from discrimination of any kind, such prejudice of whatever kind expressed as being incompatible with belonging to the movement.

For each city awarded the right to host an Olympic Games, the Charter requires the national government of that country to submit to the IOC a legally-binding instrument undertaking and guaranteeing that the country, and its public authorities, comply with and respect the Olympic Charter.

The IOC retains the right, at any time and without recourse to compensation, to withdraw the right of a city to organise and host an Olympics in the event of non-compliance with the Charter or any other IOC regulation or instruction.

If you can quote the rules, you can obey them. How the IOC handles matters, between now and February, will be illustrative as to whether the Olympic Charter is just empty rhetoric. Russia’s legal position sits in hopeless conflict with the undertakings given to the IOC.

Hollow promises that nobody is banned from Sochi, or even that the laws will not apply to Olympic athletes and spectators so long as they behave, fail to address the central abhorrence of the laws per se.

The invidious reality though is that any step by the IOC to move the Games, or by nations or individual athletes to boycott Sochi, will probably have an impact analogous to that of both the boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics by individual Jewish athletes, and the refusal of more than 50 nations to take part in the USSR’s 1980 Moscow Games.

Neither stance had any real influence on the perverse policies of the Third Reich or on Soviet foreign policy in Afghanistan. Although the impending Games has served to focus attention on Russian domestic policy, the real issue is far wider than mere guarantees over non-disruption of the Olympics and how Russia’s laws affect those attending the Games.

After the Games, the 7000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the world’s media, the volunteers and all the spectators all have to go home, perhaps to a place where the laws are even more medieval. The unfortunate, unfathomable truth is that Russia is hardly a lone wolf state.

Dotted around the globe is a veritable United Nations of more than 75 jurisdictions where it is, in essence, illegal to be gay. Places as diverse in culture as Barbados, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Qatar and Malaysia; whose laws prescribe penalties including jail, corporal punishment and death. The IAAF’s Senegalese president Lamine Diack has this past week gently suggested that the Russian laws demand ”respect”. In Senegal, homosexuality is a crime.

Has Putin taken the IOC by surprise? In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed the first resolution approved by any UN body on the human rights of homosexuals and minority groups. The vote of the 47 member states passed the resolution by a narrow majority. Two of the UN Council members were Russia and Senegal. Guess how they voted.

Darren Kane is a sports lawyer based in Sydney.

Twitter: @sportslawyer7

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