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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.

Rugby Championship
Mediocrity rewarded up front, Greg Growden writes
Greg Growden
September 2, 2014
The Wallabies have made six changes to their starting XV to face South Africa

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie had no option but to promote the Waratahs' halves pairing of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley for the Springboks Test in Perth, but mediocrity sadly has been rewarded up front.

The injection of sheer might and mongrel was imperative after the All Blacks comprehensively minced the Wallabies pack in Auckland; it was also time to teach those Wallabies forwards who constantly disappear when placed under pressure a proper lesson through being demoted.

Instead, the "powder puffs" as the Wallabies forwards were described by the New Zealand press remain. Several of them, such as Wycliff Palu and Rob Simmons, are lucky still to be there, while Sam Carter has to pick up his work-rate and be more effective with ball-in-hand; Scott Fardy and Sekope Kepu need good games as well.

Australia's Bernard Foley and Scott Higginbotham reflect on defeat, New Zealand v Australia, Rugby Championship, Eden Park, Auckland, August 23, 2014
Greg Growden would have liked to see Scott Higginbotham join Bernard Foley in the starting side © Getty Images

McKenzie strangely appears to have no time for Waratahs prop Benn Robinson, who should be in this squad, but it is becoming apparent the head coach has reservations about Scott Higginbotham.

The Melbourne Rebels back-rower was the only Australian forward to make any impact at Eden Park, where he played off the bench during the second half, but he remains on a lop-sided reserves bench that now contains six forwards and two backs. Hopefully, Higginbotham's game time is increased.

McKenzie can only hope his revamped backline doesn't suffer too many injuries on match day; otherwise he could unnecessarily be forced to be used lumbering logs out wide. Maybe Matt Hodgson is the latest player who is being transformed into a winger?

A five-three reserves split would have been far wiser, but such is the concern within the Wallabies camp of the threat of the Springboks forward pack. And that concern makes Will Skelton's exit from the squad that much more confounding. If the Wallabies really want someone who can distract the Springboks with some old fashioned muscle and might, that's Skelton - not the usual faces, who are the masters of unpredictability.

Australia's Kurtley Beale is wrapped up by the New Zealand defence, Australia v New Zealand, The Rugby Championship, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, August 16, 2014
Kurtley Beale had no space in which to operate, Greg Growden says © Getty Images

Not surprisingly the Beale playmaker experiment is over, with the Wallabies forwards' inability to provide possession, territory or space at Eden Park part of the reason for that; the No.10 had no room to maneuver. The experiment was worth a try, but now it is time for the Waratahs midfielders to be given an opportunity to replicate what they did during the Super Rugby tournament.

Nic White had to be replaced as his form had dropped right off, and Nick Phipps, as long as he keeps his composure, with his on-field demeanour improving markedly over the past 12 months, should be up to this challenge. Foley continues to astound, while his reliable goal kicking will be an asset in Perth. Phipps and Foley certainly made a difference when they appeared in Auckland.

The Australian backline still looks makeshift, with old-time centres on the wing, which just emphasises the point that September 11 cannot come quickly enough.


That's when Henry Speight at last will be eligible to play for the Wallabies.

Wycliff Palu and Rob Simmons, in particular, are fortunate to have been selected, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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