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Wallaby ‘old guard’ to face beastly Boks

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Wallaby coach John Connolly has virtually confirmed that the “old guard” of George Gregan and Stephan Larkham will be reunited for Australia’s Tri-Nations opener against South Africa in Cape Town on June 16.

Connolly, speaking to the Australian media , said he wants to avoid playing an untried combination against the Springboks, who showed during their two-test home series against England they are at the top of their powers, possessing pace and incredible up-front might.

“South Africa in Cape Town is going to be a massive test, and will give us a good indication of where exactly we are at,” Connolly told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The Springboks are in a pretty good space at the moment, probably the best space they have been in since the game went professional. Since the 1995 World Cup, they’ve had their ups and downs, but their tremendous Super 14 performances this season have really carried through in their Test efforts.

“They have a tremendous amount of depth in their squad, and while their back line is not old, they still have a lot of Test matches under their belt.”

According to media reports in Australia this also means the record-capped Gregan is likely to be the Wallabies’ first-choice scrum-half at this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Connolly virtually confirmed that Gregan, in his final season at age 34, will be resurrected as the starting scrum-half for the Tri-Nations showdown with the Springboks.

Gregan was the catalyst as a second-half replacement to inspire Australia to a 31-0 drubbing of Wales at the weekend, after leading 6-0 at half-time.

The rugby press interpreted the victory as the death-knell for the Matt Giteau experiment at scrum-half, with the utility back now more likely to revert to his customary inside-centre position outside Gregan and fly-half Stephen Larkham for the Tri-Nations.

But it isn’t an outcome that has been greeted with relish by the Australian media.

“After all their talk and tinkering, after all the promises about an exciting new era, Wallaby selectors are losing their courage and steering the Wallabies to a comfort zone. Back to where they started,” the Daily Telegraph said.

“So what chance Australia claiming the World Cup when they are set to rely on a backline nucleus that has failed to deliver a winning strike rate against quality opposition for the past four seasons?”

The Sydney Morning Herald concurred. “So now we are back at square one, with the push on for the old firm of Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Matt Giteau and Stirling Mortlock to be reinstated.

“There is logic to it, but whether it is the answer to all the Wallabies’ woes is open to doubt.

“After all, this combination has been tried many times before, and often failed, especially in crucial overseas Tests. And this year revolves around crucial overseas Tests.”

The Herald added: “One does feel as if the Wallabies remain on a treadmill, and it is so infuriating that so many Test fringe dwellers have been given their chance and been unable to take the opportunity.”

But there was praise for Gregan, making his 129th Test appearance, a record in world rugby.

“The push to return Gregan to the Test halfback [scrum-half] spot has merit,” the Herald said. “The pressure applied on him to be more proactive by the Wallabies selectors over the past year or so has worked, and his decision to sidestep last year’s end-of-season tour of Europe has definitely freshened him.”

But there is unease about the impending Tri-Nations Test opener.

“The Wallabies selectors have used a variety of midfield partnerships in an attempt to boost the squad depth, but too many of those experiments have failed, giving selectors little alternative but to return to what they term their ‘most comfortable’ attacking combination.”

The Australian newspaper said: “With the exception of left wing and fullback, that’s the tried and true backline Australia has fielded virtually since the last World Cup, in which time the Wallabies have played 20 Tests offshore for six wins and a draw.

“They have not won a Tri-Nations Test away since 2001 and have not beaten the Springboks in South Africa since 2000.”

Australia’s next Test is against World Cup pool rivals Fiji in Perth on Saturday.
 
365 Digital

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