The members of every Australian touring team have to walk in big footprints, but for no one is that more true than Brett Kimmorley. Fortunately, the Kangaroo scrum-half is used to coming out of the shadows to produce the goods when his side need them most. Kimmorley is the first to admit that he would not even be in the side if the world's best player, Andrew Johns, was not out injured. "If he's fit, I'm probably not here," he says. "But that's life. You've got to make the best of your opportunities."
He has made a career out of that. As a novice, he and his brother, Craig, understudied the Johns brothers at the Newcastle Knights. He left for the short-lived Hunter Mariners before steering the Melbourne Storm to Grand Final success. That was under the coaching of Chris Anderson, the Australian national coach, who has since taken him to Cronulla. That means that Kimmorley has had a close-up view of that club's attempts to sack his mentor after an unsuccessful and acrimonious year.
The pressure Anderson has been under at home is one reason that could be advanced for the Kangaroos' unusually unconvincing form. Going into today's game against Wales at Bridgend - their last before the First Test against Great Britain at Wigan next Saturday - their record is uninspiring, to say the least. They were beaten by New Zealand, far from impressive against a moderate French side and stretched all the way by a youthful England A at Brentford this week. No Australian side in living memory have got so close to an Ashes series without showing their class.
Kimmorley is convinced, however, that Anderson's troubles are not a factor. "I think he's just excited to be here," he says. "He can't do much about the situation at Cronulla from here. Whatever fate they have in store for him, he'll find out when he gets home. I'd love for him to stay. I'll say that to anyone who'll listen. But it won't affect him while he's here. He's got some good people here, some good friends around him."
To lose his club job and the Ashes in one year would truly be an annus horribilis for Anderson, but that is exactly what many are expecting to happen. The French coach, Gilles Dumas, and the coach of the New Zealand A team beaten by Great Britain this week, Gerard Stokes, are both on record as saying that they expect a British series victory.
"I think they'd have to be confident," Kimmorley says. "Everyone knows our playing strength is a bit down on this trip. It's their best chance ever. But we talked a bit about this before we came over here - about how it's 30-odd years since we lost to England. Especially with the rugby union World Cup being on at home, we don't want to have to slip back into the country after losing that record."
Kimmorley could start to see some signs of Australia's normal form returning in the game at Brentford in midweek. "It was a good game for us, because we played really well at times and we understand better now where our football's got to go."
There will be a contrast between the young British talent that shone so brightly in midweek and some of the venerable names in the Welsh team today. Among the likely participants is the 38-year-old scrum-half Kevin Ellis, and Kimmorley admits to some surprise at facing someone of his advanced years. "It's surprising to find someone of that age still playing. Nobody plays to 38 in Australia, but he must feel OK," he says.
Given their lack of options - such as a fit Lee Briers - Wales are delighted to have Ellis and another cross-code veteran, Allan Bateman, available today, but everything still points to the Aussies hitting their stride for the first time.
Much, though, will depend on the combination between Kimmorley and Craig Gower. Not only is Anderson without Johns, he also does not have a specialist stand-off, and so looks like pairing two scrum-halves, with a similar bustling approach, in the three Tests. "Our combination is getting better," Kimmorley says. "We play a pretty similar style, but what we've got to make sure is that the players outside us get enough football."
If they can ensure that, then the doomsday scenario of flying home without the Ashes can still be averted. After seeing the sights in Paris, London and even Barcelona, the Kangaroos have promised that this is the week when they will get down to serious business. "I don't think we're going to go into the Tests confident," says Kimmorley. "But people are starting to tip Great Britain now. That's putting a bit of pressure on them, and it's probably about time they had that."Reuse content