Wallabies turn to Rogers to upset England's plans
Friday 11 November 2005
Either that or Eddie Jones has his back pressed more firmly against the wall than the profit-loss ledger suggests. Giteau, groomed for some years now as the play-making successor to Stephen Larkham, and Sailor, a hulking great brute of a finisher who was lured from rugby league at considerable expense, may not have covered themselves in glory in the match against France last weekend, but they are central to the coach's planning for the next World Cup in two years. Jones must be in dire straits if he feels obliged to give them the heave-ho at this precise moment, desperate as he is for any sort of win.
Mat Rogers, sufficiently flexible to play in any of six positions behind the scrum but a full-back by instinct, takes over at No 10 - a role performed by enough Wallaby legends, from Phil Hawthorne and Mark Ella to Michael Lynagh and the sublime Larkham, to sink the proverbial battleship. Rogers is some footballer, but his rugby league background raises questions over his grasp of union-specific duties, of which there are more at stand-off than anywhere else.
On the wings, the 23-year-old Mark Gerrard from Warringah and the 22-year-old Queenslander Drew Mitchell have been paired together. Mitchell played three Tri-Nations matches at full-back during August, caught the eye in each of them and even contrived to put a try past the All Blacks in Sydney. Gerrard also knows what it is to score against New Zealand, so it can be assumed that he is nobody's fool either.
All the same, Jones had some explaining to do yesterday. "Wendell was disappointing in Marseilles last Saturday - he didn't give us the go-forward we needed," said the coach, who has also awarded a first Test start to the 22-year-old lock from Brisbane, Hugh McMeniman, who is seen as the new John Eales by some of his more expectant countrymen, heaven help him. "As for Matt, it was a difficult decision. He's still coming to terms with the outside-half position and just at the moment, we see Rogers and Morgan Turinui as our best 10-12 combination."
With John Roe replacing the more substantial Rocky Elsom on the blind-side flank, this is not the Wallaby side England expected to meet. Perhaps that is the point. As Rogers said yesterday: "We just want to win a footy game." The element of surprise being as valuable as it is, Jones may just have struck gold. There again...
Over in Wales, a rugby nation plunged back into widow's weeds by the rampant All Blacks last weekend, the new generation of World Cup wannabes - the Llanelli Scarlets full-back Lee Byrne, the Cardiff Blues loose-head prop John Yapp and the ridiculously tall Newport-Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris among them - have a chance to make a point or two against Fiji at the Millennium Stadium this evening. The islanders are not the most enthusiastic of travellers, but they do have one or two remarkable players, not least the New Zealand-based No 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, and if they get through the first half-hour they may just give the home XV a work-out worthy of the name.
That would have been the case in dry conditions but the Welsh, having closed the Millennium Stadium roof against the All Blacks, opted to leave it open for this game. "We talked about the roof during the week, so we're quite surprised," the Fiji coach Wayne Pivac said ruefully.
Australia Test team
v England (Twickenham, tomorrow, 3.0pm):
C Latham (Queensland); M Gerrard (ACT), L Tuqiri (NSW), M Turinui (NSW), D Mitchell (Queensland); M Rogers (NSW), G Gregan (ACT, capt); M Dunning (NSW), B Cannon (WA), A Baxter (NSW), N Sharpe (WA), H McMeniman (Queensland), J Roe (Queensland), P Waugh (NSW), G Smith (ACT). Replacements: T Polata-Nau (NSW), G Holmes (Queensland), M Chisholm (ACT), S Fava (WA), C Whitaker (NSW), M Giteau (ACT), L Johannson (Queensland).
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