The Daily Telegraph has thrown an extra question into a testing round of Super 14 matches for all four
Australian sides – the value of veteran Brumby and Wallaby outside centre
Stirling Mortlock to Australian rugby.

29-year-old Mortlock comes off contract
this year and the Terror reckons the ARU is set to pay him nearly $1 million
over 2007 and 2008 to prevent him moving offshore – although there is always a
good chance with such stories that the player’s manager might have had a hand in
floating the suggestion.

Mortlock’s has been a great servant of his
province and nation – the vision of his big fast frame busting tackles to score
tries was a regular feature of his early Wallaby years. He still scores, but
the vision has changed subtly to his strong legs doggedly continuing to pump
for a few more metres after a half-break with a couple of defenders on him
before going down for a ruck – the pattern of Eddie Jones’s last two years as
Wallaby coach. And it’s not as if Australia
doesn’t have a couple of other options at outside centre.

Which all gives Mortlock yet more reasons
to show how good he can be against the Stormers in Cape Town tomorrow
morning. He needs to maintain last week’s form to justify that million.

It’s a fascinating round for the Oz teams:
the Waratahs needing to play some decent rugby to defeat the Bulls in
Pretoria
after winning twice while playing badly; the Brumbies favourites to
make the
Stormers their third scalp; the Force tonight having one of their best
chances
to actually win a game while hosting the Waikato Chiefs in Perth; and
potentially the most interesting match is between two winless teams
with Queenslanders
under pressure on both sides.

Before Round 1, nobody would have bet on
the depleted Reds beating the Auckland Blues – supposed finalist material. But
the spirit and style of Queensland rugby for 67 out of 80 minutes in the first two rounds has them in
with a chance. The SMH tipping panel splits 6-2 in favour of Queensland but the
TAB favours the Kiwis.

Meanwhile, the Blues need a win very soon
or Auckland supporters will start to think the Brumbies made the right decision
to sack former Queensland player David Nucifora as coach.

Peter Fray

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