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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
Adam Ashley-Cooper can be lucky for Wallabies in 13
Greg Growden
June 2, 2014
Adam Ashley-Cooper is Australia's best No.13, and he should wear that Wallabies jumper, Greg Growden says © Getty Images

The message is now loud and clear. New South Wales Waratahs' victory over the Chiefs in New Plymouth on Saturday, apart from confirming they are genuine Super Rugby title contenders, has hopefully convinced Wallabies selectors to pick Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre for the first Test against France.

The New Plymouth triumph was further reinforcement that Ashley-Cooper is the best No.13 in Australia, and that's where he should be sighted in the green and gold rather than again being shunted on to the wing.

Chiefs 17-33 Waratahs (Australia only)

Ashley-Cooper is such an unselfish team man that his whole career has seen him endlessly flitting around the backline - having playing for Australia in both centre spots, on both wings and at fullback. It has for so long been an easy option for the Wallabies selectors to move Ashley-Cooper wherever they liked, whenever they wanted. They know they can do it, because he never complains.

But after his spectacular man-of-the-match effort against the Chiefs, with his constant ability to break the line and stimulate the Waratahs attack allied with his correct positioning in easily the toughest defensive spot on the field, it will be wrong if anyone else took that spot for the Brisbane international.

A true gauge of a player is when they play the best. The Chiefs are right up there, and Ashley-Cooper performed.

Wallabies Squad To Play France

  • Prop: Pek Cowan (Force) Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) Paddy Ryan (Waratahs) Scott Sio (Brumbies) James Slipper (Reds).
  • Hookers: Nathan Charles (Force), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs)
  • Second-row: Sam Carter (Brumbies) James Horwill (Reds) Luke Jones (Rebels) Rob Simmons (Reds) Will Skelton (Waratahs).
  • Back-row: Scott Fardy (Brumbies) Scott Higginbotham (Rebels) Matt Hodgson (Force) Michael Hooper (Waratahs) Ben McCalman (Force) Wycliff Palu (Waratahs).
  • Scrum-half: Will Genia (Reds) Nick Phipps (Waratahs) Nic White (Brumbies).
  • Fly-half: Kurtley Beale (Waratahs) Bernard Foley (Waratahs).
  • Centre: Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) Christian Leali'ifano (Brumbies) Matt Toomua (Brumbies).
  • Back- three: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs) Nick Cummins (Force) Israel Folau (Waratahs) Rob Horne (Waratahs) Pat McCabe (Brumbies).

By selecting Ashley-Cooper at No 13, Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie can enjoy the luxury of playing a successful combination out wide - relying on a Waratahs mix that has hit form at the right time of the year to take them to the top of the Australian conference.

A smart midfield combination would be to have Kurtley Beale and Ashley-Cooper side by side in the centres - a pairing that has been together at the Waratahs for the whole Super Rugby season.

Outside them would be two more players familiar with what they get up to: with Israel Folau at fullback and Rob Horne on the wing, the Wallabies would go into the France series with an attack that knows exactly what they are doing.

Horne has been outstanding on the wing the past month for the Waratahs. He is exactly what McKenzie wants: fast, direct and impulsive; and boasting 15 Test caps, he is familiar with the top level. Nor does he spill the ball, or give it away easily, as countless team-mates outside him have discovered over the years.

As McKenzie has only a few days to prepare for the series, the selection of these four Waratahs means he will not have to worry about using this week's training camp wasting time introducing backline players to each other. The rise, buoyancy and confidence of the Waratahs can now be used to good effect at the next level.

McKenzie has hinted strongly that Matt Toomua will be the Test No.12 - by announcing him in the Wallabies squad as a centre rather than fly-half, but it would be far wiser if the Brumbies playmaker started at No.10. If McKenzie persists in playing Beale at No 10, at least ensure that he and Toomua constantly swap around - so the Wallabies make full use of their two playmakers.

As for Bernard Foley, the Waratahs pivot is now seriously hovering - excelling against Aaron Cruden in New Plymouth. But at this stage it would be wiser if Foley sat on the bench, as an able No.10 back-up to Toomua and Beale.

Stephen Moore was a popular pick to skipper Australia against France © Getty Images

Rousing as the Waratahs' best victory of the season was, the key lesson from the weekend was the discovery the Brumbies can adapt.

Brumbies 37-10 Rebels (Australia only)

The Brumbies' game had stagnated in the past month, due to an over-reliance of aimless midfield kicking and an obsession in playing territory. Sadly the traditional fast-flowing Brumbies band of adventurous attacking football appeared to have been forgotten.

But the wise move to give Jesse Mogg a rest and instead play the best bench player going around - Pat McCabe - at No.15 next to Clyde Rathbone, revitalised the Brumbies against the Rebels, prompting some timely Canberra cheer.

Again the Brumbies were taking chances, and the adventure had the desired effect of fragmenting the Melbourne Rebels' defence, which until Saturday night had been on the improve this season. The performance also showed the Brumbies had a Plan B, which will be a crucial asset around finals time.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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