Wallabies trio would make team of Rugby Championship

Three Wallabies would be worthy inclusions in a Rugby Championship team of the tournament, a fourth would be desperately unlucky to miss out and a fifth is not far away.
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The three are Will Genia, Michael Hooper and Israel Folau, for their consistency as much as class, while Kurtley Beale is the unfortunate one. Jan Serfontein, the rejuvenated Springbok, was excellent yet again against the All Blacks last weekend, a performance that got him my vote.

Bernard Foley is just behind Beauden Barrett, although that call is also close, probably closer than Kiwis would like to admit. Foley, at the top of his game, is a wonderful player and probably the better distributor.

Still, three names in a tournament XV and two others in the conversation is relatively healthy representation of Wallabies that reflects the positives in their campaign. The glass looks more half-full than half-empty.

The area where there are fewer contenders is in the tight five.

Sekope Kepu has been the pick of the bunch with his set-piece knowledge and skills around the park but his scrummaging hasn’t matched the destructive levels of the All Blacks’ Nepo Laulala. Indeed, both may have finished behind Coenie Oozthuizen had the Springbok not broken an arm in Perth.

In the second row, Adam Coleman has been searching for partners and consistency, although if he finds the former the latter could follow.

However, my sense is that the Wallabies do not have a gold-plated, absolutely top-of-the-line tight-five forward. There’s no Malcolm Marx or Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje. The Wallabies’ tight five is not a soft underbelly but neither is it dominant.

The big men might interpret this as a slight but they should see it as a challenge.

Good things are happening elsewhere in this team. The wings now look settled and for all the lingering doubt about Tevita Kuridrani’s skill under pressure – there was an unacceptable pass to Henry Speight last weekend that cost him a try – he has shored up the midfield defence.

The loose forwards’ work rate is exceptional and Foley is becoming indispensable again, especially as depth at No. 10 is still an issue.

Folau is on course to Test try scoring records, all things being equal – although equality is apparently not a position he finds palatable.

In many areas, the Wallabies are progressing. Now they need the tight five to match those improvements.

With that in mind the successor to Mario Ledesma takes extra importance.

In so many ways Nick Stiles ticks the boxes. He did a good job with the Reds scrum, is young and is available. It would be a smooth appointment.

Yet it is for precisely those reasons that I would prefer Laurie Fisher. The Wallabies need another strong personality among their coaches.

Frankly, they need some grey hairs. Fisher has been around the world and is his own man. If he offers a contrarian view every now and again then the Wallabies would be better for it.

Besides, he has coached a pack to a victory over the British and Irish Lions and his nous goes beyond the scrum – the breakdown work can also come under his gaze.

TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT*

1. Wyatt Crockett (New Zealand) 2. Malcolm Marx (South Africa) 3. Nepo Laulala (New Zealand) 4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand) 5. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand) 6. Liam Squire (New Zealand) 7. Michael Hooper () 8. Kieran Read (New Zealand) 9. Will Genia () 10. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand) 11. Rieko Ioane (New Zealand) 12. Jan Serfontein (South Africa) 13. Ryan Crotty (New Zealand) 14. Damian McKenzie (New Zealand) 15. Israel Folau ()

* I have cheated somewhat with the team of the tournament, picking Damian McKenzie at 14 to fit him in somewhere. That makes 10 Kiwis. It is far too many from an n point of view but the Wallabies have the chance to change that balance in the third Bledisloe next Saturday.


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