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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
The Growden Report
Greg Growden names his Wallabies XV
Greg Growden
May 12, 2014
Michael Hooper is the standout Australian player so far in 2014 © Getty Images
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The Wallabies will try to laugh off New Zealand media sledges that Australian teams are soft. It's a good old-fashioned Kiwi rev-up. But Wallabies management cannot ignore the glaring fact that not enough core Test players are consistently performing well enough at Super Rugby level for them to start believing they will be a serious Rugby Championship threat.

Matt Toomua talks exclusively to Greg Growden
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The domestic internationals against France are looming, yet you can only pick on one hand Australian Test regulars who week in week out are producing fine Super Rugby performances. The form of most mainstream Wallabies has been all over the place, giving Ewen McKenzie every reason when he picks his first Test team to choose something markedly different to that which last ran out against Wales in Cardiff late in 2013.

New South Wales Waratahs No.7 Michael Hooper, Brumbies midfielder Matt Toomua and hooker Stephen Moore are the only regular Test players performing with any real consistency. Some have had their moments - such as Quade Cooper, Will Genia and Israel Folau - but there have also been dry spells. But some have been well off their best, including the Queensland Reds lock pairing of James Horwill and Rob Simmons, who picked up their work-rate against the Crusaders on Sunday but too often have been in the disappearing act category.

Greg Growden's form Wallabies XV

  • 15: Israel Folau (Waratahs)
  • 14: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)
  • 13: Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies)
  • 12: Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
  • 11: Nick Cummins (Force)
  • 10: Matt Toomua (Brumbies)
  • 9: Will Genia (Reds)
  • 8: Ben McCalman (Force)
  • 7: Michael Hooper (Waratahs)
  • 6: Scott Higginbotham (Rebels, captain)
  • 5: Will Skelton (Waratahs)
  • 4: Scott Fardy (Brumbies)
  • 3: Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
  • 2: Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
  • 1: Scott Sio (Brumbies)

Many of the best performances this season have come from fringe Test players, such as Ben McCalman, Matt Hodgson, Scott Fardy, and Pat McCabe.

Unless there is a massive transformation in the next few Super Rugby rounds, McKenzie will be forced either to hope Test football will jolt his mainstays out of hibernation, or be radical at the selection table.

Up front, the Brumbies' front-row remains the best Test option. It is well short of ideal, as overseas provincial teams have put them under pressure, but the Ben Alexander- Moore-Scott Sio combination has been the most reliable scrummaging trio of the Australian provinces. And it is certainly time to see whether Sio is ready for the next step.

Something new is required in the second-row. There has been an abundance of better Australian locks than Horwill and Simmons this year - including Luke Jones, Kane Douglas and Sam Carter. But Australia also need threatening muscle if they are to seriously destabilise France, New Zealand, and South Africa. That's why it is imperative that Waratahs lock/back-rower Will Skelton is given a chance.

Skelton and Jacques Potgieter have transformed the Waratahs' forward play this season, and given it an edge. Skelton has a way of sucking in so many defenders, when he puts on the Gigantor mask and bounds down the field, smothering anything that comes near him. Fardy, the most industrious of forwards, has worked well as a lock for the Brumbies, and must be in the Test team somewhere.

Back-row is pretty simple: Hooper has been the standout Australian player, McCalman is the form No 8, and Scott Higginbotham provides even more mongrel on the side.

Sure, there is a lack of specialist lineout jumpers, but there are enough in the back three to ensure Australia wins its required share. For insurance, you can have Horwill or Douglas sitting on the bench.

Ben McCalman is enjoying a stellar season © Getty Images
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At halfback, Nic White is threatening but Will Genia remains the safer option, especially with his form picking up the longer the Super Rugby season has gone on. And the push for Toomua to play at No.10 is now justified, especially as Cooper has faltered appreciably in recent weeks.

Cooper began the tournament in fine fashion but he has tried to do too much in the past few games, and the crazy mistakes have multiplied - including when he suffered under Crusaders pressure on Sunday. Cooper is the victim of a province in disarray, and he is again wilting when New Zealand teams apply tension.

Israel Folau and the Wallabies will wear a new jumper in 2014
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As numerous Australian teams have opted for a defensive, territorial, kick-oriented game, the midfielders have struggled to shine. But the fearless McCabe has excelled virtually every time he has appeared, while Tevita Kuridrani has done enough to hold the No.13 jumper and force the ever-reliable Adam Ashley-Cooper onto the wing on the opposite side to Nick Cummins.

The Waratahs have regularly wasted the talents of their fullback, Israel Folau, but he remains the first picked in any Australia Test team- because he is the player international opponents fear the most.

As for captain: Higginbotham, because he always stands his ground.


Who would you select in your Wallabies XV to start the first Test against France in Brisbane on June 7?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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