Something rather serious happened to the Wallabies World Cup hopes over the weekend. While everyone was focusing on the need for the Wallaby forwards to improve during the winter campaign, we’ve suddenly hit spring and found we don’t have much in the way of a back line either.
Coach Connolly confessed to backline difficulties after the loss to South Africa, but twisted reality about what they were. Knuckles wanted to stress the depth issue when he specified problems at 9, 10, 13 and 15, but the real crisis is in the missing back-line numbers of 11, 12 and 14.
Injuries permitting, Larkham will be 10 and Latham 15. Either Mortlock or Tuqiri will cover 13. George Gregan had his best game in a couple of years at the top level on Saturday night, but that single effort doesn’t remove the larger body of evidence against him. Nonetheless, either he or a recovered Sam Cordingly will do at 9. (The talk of Matt Giteau becoming a world champion halfback in one year is as fanciful as young props reaching the same level in that time frame – as the Springboks coach pointed out.)
The immediate drama is the between-the-lines admission that million-dollar-man Giteau failed at inside centre after four Tests without presence. Knuckles is looking to move Mortlock to 12 with Tuqiri at 13. That means the Wallaby wingers won’t be anything special by international standards.
Steve Rogers becomes the understudy at 10 with interesting quotes from Larkham in the Oz about running Rogers there during the European tour. Larkham, our mighty 32-year-old warrior, might well be revived with Mortlock next to him to take some of the pressure, but the last four Tests have left him looking less than in control.
The problem with the spring tour is that while the workout will benefit the front row, only the Irish match should offer much challenge for the backs. Barring some bolters suddenly emerging, the winter of 2007 looks to have a familiar amount of discontent for Wallaby supporters.