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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
Ewen McKenzie will retain players he knows
Greg Growden
May 19, 2014
James Horwill and the Reds are struggling to justify Test inclusion © Getty Images

Ewen McKenzie was back in the house, and he gave the bedraggled Queensland Reds a few hints that at least he had a bit of faith in them.

Reds 27-30 Rebels (Australia only)

Before the Reds-Melbourne Rebels match, the Wallabies head coach was interviewed on Fox Sports at his old stomping ground, Suncorp Stadium, and he tossed out a few crumbs regarding his Test team to play France. There were bobs and weaves, ifs and buts. But the most important line was: "We have one week to prepare for France. We really want to pick up from where we finished off against Wales. So you need to understand that the guys who were there at the end of last year have some idea what we want to do and how we want to go about it. That doesn't mean they are guaranteed to start, but it is something to consider."

Every Wallabies coach in recent history has, in search of a bit of public sympathy, emphasised how little time they have to prepare for the first Test of the year, and more often than not they have gone for those who've been there and done that rather than opt for the strict form performers.

It is a natural trait of coaches to rely on those with whom they are familiar in a bid to minimise risks. And McKenzie is certainly familiar with the Reds squad. So McKenzie's utterance should be treated as rousing news for the bottom-of-the-table Reds, who, if form were the prime selection requirement, would not have anyone in the starting XV against France. Instead don't be surprised if four of the Reds line-up appear in the opening international. Whether any of them deserve to be there is another matter.

There would have been five as Quade Cooper, despite being out of kilter the past month, was a certainty to be the Test No.10, after McKenzie worked so hard last season to transform him into one of the Wallabies' elders. McKenzie was never going to give up on Cooper, but a bung collar-bone and shoulder suffered against the Rebels will see the playmaker sidelined for some time.

Who will Ewen McKenzie select?

One should anticipate that Will Genia, James Horwill, Rob Simmons and James Slipper will be there; and at least three of quartet should feel very, very lucky when, as expected, the Test jerseys are handed to them. Slipper was erratic before being suspended, Horwill and Simmons have been well off the pace and are at best the fifth- or sixth-best locks running around in Australia, and Genia is suffering the frustrations of trying to keep a rabble in some sort of check.

Genia has had his good matches, but also several worrying below-par performances. Brumbies halfback Nic White has been more consistent. But that disconcerting feisty part of White's character should again see him being Genia's backup rather than the starting Test scrum-half.

In White's favour is the fact that Matt Toomua is the prime candidate to be the Test No.10 with Cooper sidelined, as the pair enjoy a flourishing relationship at the Brumbies. But those unnecessary hotheaded moments prompt doubts whether White is ready for a Test run-on position.

Cheetahs 27-21 Brumbies (Australia only)

White carried on again just before half-time in Bloemfontein, where a penalty awarded to the Brumbies on the Cheetahs' line was overturned after he had attacked Heinrich Brussow. It was stupid "angry ant" behaviour, and a possible seven points was lost. This is not an isolated incident, as the ever-prickly White appears to take delight in antagonising anyone and everyone. That has to stop, because such behaviour can lead to lost Test matches.

But White's behavior was only the second-biggest "brain explosion" of the weekend. The biggest saw Horwill ridiculously blaming the referee for the Reds' defeat by the Rebels. That was misguided, and indicative of how the divided Reds are now in complete denial. The television match official's decision on Ed O'Donoghue's alleged eye-gouging of Scott Higginbotham was justified.

As for the potency of the anticipated Test squad, which will include Genia and White when it is announced this Thursday, it will be OK but not much more. The squad will hold up against France, but South Africa and New Zealand won't exactly be quivering in fright.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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