The Team That Never Travelled: Part Four, The Halfbacks

In this installment of The Team That Never Travelled, we look at the scrum-halves and out-halves who could have made all the difference.

Scrum-half
Dwayne Peel [30, Wales & Sale] was a starting Test Lion at 24 years old, made his international debut a decade ago and has earned 79 international caps. Under Warren Gatland, he has made just four starts for Wales in the last four years. The Kiwi clearly prefers the physicality that Mike Phillips brings to the No9 jersey and, to be fair, Phillips’ form has been generally good while Peel’s has been up and down.

Richie Rees [28, Wales & Cardiff Blues] was a surprise call up to the Welsh team for last year’s Six Nations. Rees’ CV suggested that he was a journeyman pro and at 26, he wasn’t One for the Future. Nonetheless, the Cardiff half back made a decent fist of his chance in Mike Phillips’ absence and offered a bit of zip at the base of the Welsh breakdown.

Best thought of as a Welsh Danny Care, Rees received a 12 week ban for making contact with Dylan Hartley’s eye area. The Mole condemns eye gouging but is in favour of slapping Dylan Hartley. The Welsh chose to bring Tavis Knoyle and Lloyd Williams to the RWC with42 years and 6 caps between them. However, Phillips hasn’t recovered his Lions 2009 form andWales face physical opposition in all their pool games. Rees could be missed.

Desperately short on form and confidence, Tomás O’Leary [27, Ireland & Munster] is more a case of a big name not making the squad than a talented player ignored by a coach purposely looking the other way. Indeed, Declan Kidney gave O’Leary chance after chance after chance this season. People talked about the bravery that it took to leave him at home, which perplexes the Mole. He was playing like a drain, and had been playing like a drain for the entire year. He shouldn’t even have been in the conversation to travel.

It’s amazing to think that a scrum half of the quality of Nico Durand [28, France & Racing Metro] only has two international caps. He’s somewhat unlucky that his career has clashed with cracking players like Élissalde, Mignoni and Yachvilli. Then again, France has been turning out top-quality scrum-halves for the last quarter century, like the great Pierre Berbiziér and Fabien Galthié, the only scrum-half to have won the IRB International Player of the Year Award [in 2002].

The hen-pecked, eye-gouging Julian Dupuy [27, France & Stade] was a feature of Marc Lievremont’s squads in 2009, and indeed was instrumental in them beating New Zealand in Dunedin in June of that year. He converted the three French tries and added two penalty goals to contribute twelve of France’s points in a 27-22 victory. He also kicked twelve points – again – of France’s 20-13 win over the World, Tri-Nations and Lions Series champion Springboks in November 2009 in Toulouse, a cracking game in which Fabien Barcellla went buck-wild and announced himself on the world stage. He’s got an awful lot going against him, but those were two immense personal contributions in what were the best two performances of the Lievremont era.

Outhalf
Lionel Beauxis [25, France and Toulouse]: younger than Sexton, better than Skrela. Beauxis is a former IRB U21 World Player of the year [2006], and went straight from that award to kicking all his side’s points in the home semi final against les Rosbifs in RWC07. Under Laporte, his rise was meteoric: the famous quarter-final victory against New Zealand was only his fourth start. He missed the entire 2008 season because of a dickie back, and since then his chances under Marc Lievremont have been very, very limited. Clouseau started him t outhalf against Ireland in the first weekend of the 2009 Six Nations, but Trinh-Duc finished the championship in the No10 jersey, and Beauxis hasn’t played international rugby since June 2009.

As mentioned in one of the Mole’s earliest articles, Danny Cipriani Who Slept With A Man [23, England & Melbourne Rebels] was all set up to be Jonny Wilkinson’s successor as the picture-perfect standard-bearer of English rugby. Unfortunately, while Wilko is a dead sound if probably overly introspective lad, Cipriani is an arsehole of the first order. It might be that the Mole is just an old fashioned grump, but despite his obvious talent, DCWSWAM doesn’t get any love in Mole Towers. The self-involved tit.

Le Freddie Michalak [28, France & Natal Sharks] was at one stage a hell of a rugby player, but was by common conception probably never a great outhalf. Now, the Mole is going to stick his head over the parapet on this one: Michalak might have flaked badly in the rain in the RWC03 semi-final against England, but he had an absolutely blinding tournament up to that. And he was a blinding outhalf.

In an August warm-up game played in Marseilles he masterminded the end of England’s 18-game winning run, and his form in the world cup was little short of sensational. 26 points against Fiji, 24 against Japan, 28 against Scotland [including the full house of a try, a drop goal, four penalties and four conversions] and 23 against Ireland in the quarters – he was averaging over 25 points per game! Ooh-la-la indeed.

The semi-final against England arguably ruined his career at outhalf. In piss-poor conditions, Freddie could only kick one from five attempts at goal, whereas le Jonny kicked three drops and five pennos. Bernie Le Fou also hauled him off for wily old fox Gerald Merceron. Ouch. Never the same afterwards.

Nick Evans [31, NZ & Harlequins] never had a chance against Dan Carter, but is a top quality outhalf. It’s incredible to think that Ted Henry decided that he’d rather go into the World Cup with Colin Slade as his back-up, rather than Nick Evans. The Mole has discussed this with reference to Carl Hayman, but the NZRFU is going to huge lengths to win the Webb Ellis Trophy … and the NZ management team isn’t even picking the best players available to them?

If Graham Henry thinks that Slade is a better outhalf than Evans, he’s bonkers. If the NZRFU think that picking a player who plays outside New Zealand will provide a damaging precedent, there’s a shred of logic there, but the importance of where it ranks is all wrong. New Zealand almost certainly won’t host a World Cup again, and it’s more important that they assemble as good a squad as they can rather than standing on ceremony.

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4 thoughts on “The Team That Never Travelled: Part Four, The Halfbacks

  1. Hi Mole – I enjoyed reading the Team that never Travelled series. What about the Fall Blacks? Namely, New Zealand born players at the World Cup but playing for different countries? Can a full team be constructed?

    Dukephil

  2. Have you not been watching Willis and Madigan take the piss with Leinster recently? Haven’t seen a combination that good since brown dubes and chino’s first made an appearance.

  3. Madigan and McKinley got a shout out in an article in the IT recently about all the southsiders from Kilmacud Crokes who make up the Dubs’ defence. Apparently they were quality gaelic footballers as teenagers – no surprise there.

    Madigan’s passing is as good as ever, and his running game seems to have hit a new level this year … still a lot of work required on his tactical kicking though. Ian McKinley is a huge loss to rugby. An outstanding talent.

  4. Pingback: Play La Marseillaise; Play It! | Digging Like a Demented Mole

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