Jones needs pack to be on front foot

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The Independent Online

When the Wallabies mustered in Sydney for what they call their spring tour, they called in the forwards a day ahead of the backs. Perhaps it was a matter of logistics, but it is not at all facetious to conclude that the Australia coach, Eddie Jones, must pay more attention to the grunt merchants than to the fancy dans.

When the Wallabies mustered in Sydney for what they call their spring tour, they called in the forwards a day ahead of the backs. Perhaps it was a matter of logistics, but it is not at all facetious to conclude that the Australia coach, Eddie Jones, must pay more attention to the grunt merchants than to the fancy dans.

Jones's back division is frighteningly good. At the helm, George Gregan is continuing his serene progress towards a thousand Test caps, or at least a world-record total surpassing the 119 of Jason Leonard (including the Lions) as he homes in on the 2007 World Cup. Outside the scrum-half and captain, Steve Larkham, Matt Giteau, Stirling Mortlock, Clyde Rathbone, Lote Tuqiri and Mat Rogers will have the video analysts on these shores working overtime. There is no shortage of footage of these fellows doing great things.

Giteau, indeed, is one of five nominees to succeed Jonny Wilkinson as the IRB's Player of the Year: not bad for a man whose Wallaby debut as a substitute at Twickenham in 2002 consisted of a fairly nightmarish 10 minutes. Elton Flatley, the inside-centre who traded kick after memorable kick with Wilkinson in the World Cup final, may have to settle for replacement duty on his return from a broken arm.

Alone among the league recruits, Wendell Sailor's reputation has tailed off since his defence was exposed by England before and during the World Cup. But Jones will reflect that with Tuqiri and Rogers prospering, two out of three ain't bad. Drew Mitchell of Queensland is the only outright newcomer.

So with backs like these, who needs forwards? Of course it does not work like that and the in-flight entertainment might pass Jones by today if he allows himself to be distracted by the conundrums that dogged him throughout the Tri-Nations. The Wallabies finished bottom of that little pile in July, when there were too many ifs, buts and haven't-got-a-clues about the make-up of the scrum.

The "fresh new talent" that Jones referred to in announcing his squad of 28 for two Tests against Scotland, and one each in France and England is mostly an attempt to resolve these problems. Stephen Hoiles, from Jones's old club, Randwick, has never started a Super 12 match. He is, however, a solidly-built line-out jumper with good hands.

Hoiles could square the circle which encompasses the fading form of No 8 David Lyons and the presence of those two wonderful openside flankers, George Smith and Phil Waugh. The Queenslander, John Roe, gives another option at six or eight.

It is difficult to envisage the second row without Justin Harrison, but a shoulder injury has forced Nathan Sharpe to miss the trip, so first-time tourist Mark Chisholm of ACT could keep Daniel Vickerman and Radike Samo on their toes. "We are a bit short on experience in that area," Jones admitted. "But we have plenty of enthusiasm."

The front row is the most settled unit, with the likes of Al Baxter, Brendan Cannon, Jeremy Paul, Matt Dunning and Bill Young having been round the block often enough. As for Gregan - 102 caps and counting - the skipper missed the six-day get-together at Coffs Harbour after his four-year-old son, Max, was diagnosed with epilepsy, and will return home if the situation worsens. Heading the other way during the tour are seven Australia A players, who will play against the French Barbarians in Paris. This midweek fixture is incongruous in the modern touring calendar.

Maybe that's why Jones, keeping up with the Aussie tradition of innovation, has placed an accent on endurance, inviting two Olympic triathlon coaches, Bill Davoren and Wayne Goldsmith, into the camp.

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