Rugby Union: Gregan supplies engine power

Wallabies' scrum-half relishes the challenge of England on Saturday.

ACCORDING TO George Gregan, by common consent the form scrum-half in world rugby union, the Wallabies are exploring the possibilities of the "structured ad lib". If that sounds like the sort of technique Billy Connolly might employ in one of his more inspired assaults on the comic senses, England are unlikely to find anything remotely funny about the Australian back division on Saturday. The prospect of Gregan, Tim Horan, Daniel Herbert and Joe Roff combining in common cause tends to make grown men weep with fear rather than laughter.

Indeed, it is fair to say that from the red rose perspective, Gregan is one of the least amusing of this Saturday's opponents. He made his pitch for Wallaby sainthood early - as a 21-year-old rookie, he produced the mother and father of all try-saving tackles on Jeff Wilson as the great All Black wing was about to win the 1994 Bledisloe Cup for New Zealand - and over the course of 40 subsequent performances he has earned himself a jealously guarded reputation as the engine of what is now a veritable Rolls-Royce of an Australian side.

And what an engine: small and compact but positively bursting with piston power. Enzo Ferrari would have loved the guy to bits, just as Bob Dwyer does. "Take a look at George," the 1991 World Cup-winning Australian coach once said. "You think he's a pushover? A little on the fragile side? Don't even dream about it. George is the ideal modern rugby player personified: powerful, dynamic, perfectly conditioned. He sets the standard in terms of physical fitness and resilience."

Increasingly, he is also setting the standard in contemporary scrum-half play; in the opening Test against Ireland in Brisbane 11 days ago, he produced a display that put the "zeit" in rugby's "geist". His passing was efficient rather than stunning; he is no Nigel Melville, let alone a Gareth Edwards or a Kenny Catchpole. There was nothing startling about his kicking, either: he was accurate enough when he put boot to ball, but his punting did not bring the Irish to their knees. What made the tourists long for home was his energy, his muscularity, his relish of confrontation. There is a touch of the nasty about Gregan and he does not mind who knows it.

"That's today's game, isn't it?" he acknowledged after a particularly fierce Wallaby training session at Sydney's Concord Oval this week. "The intensity of Test rugby - or non-Test rugby, come to that - is increasing all the time, almost match by match. The scrum-half's role has certainly changed since I made my debut against Italy back in '94. Defences are so flat now; the first-up tacklers are on you the split-second you get the ball. To survive, you constantly have to work out new ways of committing defenders, just to keep a move alive. And when you're committing a defender, you're asking to be tackled. That's the way it is."

Born in Zambia a little over 26 years ago - his parents decided to uproot and move to Canberra before their son's second birthday - George Musarurwa Gregan learned his rugby at St Edmund's College, one of the capital city's more renowned union-playing schools.

An exceptional practitioner of the short game, he made the national squad for the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens and captained them at the same event the following year. He was no great shakes during the last World Cup (neither was any other Wallaby, of course), yet the immediate advent of professionalism sent him spiralling onwards and upwards. A key influence behind the ACT Brumbies' rise to Super 12 prominence, he was named Player of the Tournament in 1997. Later that year, he won Australia's Players' Player accolade and served a stint as his country's vice-captain.

He vehemently denies that the Wallabies have 65 back-line moves in their repertoire; indeed, he finds the very suggestion offensive. "I know David Campese said that the other week, but it just goes to show how long Campo has been out of the Wallaby set-up," he said, only half-joking. "We've cut the planned moves right back over the last season or so and our current set of calls wouldn't be anywhere near 65. We're trying to get to different places now; it's all about reading each other and playing it off the cuff. You need to control the ball, of course; we didn't control the ball in the second Irish Test and ended up with a fight on our hands. But we don't stick rigidly to any plan or formula. Structured ad lib? Yes, that sounds about right."

Gregan spent the Irish series nursing a new outside-half, Nathan Spooner, through his Wallaby initiation, a task that suited his naturally authoritative manner. "It wasn't just me; the whole team took it on themselves to pull Nathan along," he pointed out. "But as his half-back partner, it was down to me to free up some time and space for him. Let's be honest here. A new cap has enough flying around in his head without his closest colleague selling him short and making life unnecessarily difficult for him."

This Saturday, though, he goes in alongside a player with far more of a past. Tim Horan, repositioned at stand-off in place of the concussed Spooner, has been playing for the Wallabies since 1989, when he made a Bledisloe Cup debut as a teenager, and has 69 caps in his kitbag. Not even Gregan, the very epitome of the chopsy scrum-half and an image of self-assurance, will be telling him how to play the game. "In so far as I have a mentor, Tim is it," he admitted.

"I spend time with people like him and Phil Kearns, guys who have won a World Cup and done pretty much everything in the game. They can put me right on things because it's hard to imagine having a problem that they haven't encountered and dealt with themselves.

"It's good to see people like Tim getting themselves up for Test rugby, even though they've been doing it for years. Mind you, this game against England is huge, just as the Tri-Nations with South Africa and New Zealand is going to be huge.

"People ask me if I'm looking forward to the World Cup in October and I say: `Hey, that's miles away. Look what we've got in front of us before then'." England are probably saying the same about George Gregan. He may not be the biggest rugby player around, but as Jeff Wilson will confirm, he takes an awful lot of avoiding.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform