Australian No8 Wycliff Palu is out of the World Cup. His hamstring tear seems to have been complicated by a history of similar injuries, and the prognosis of a six-week recovery period means that for him, the war is over.
Where does that leave the Australian backrow? In an earlier article the Mole discussed the absence of George Smith from Dingo Deans’ selection, and previous posts have highlighted Ben McCalman’s inadequacies at openside. However, with a maximum of four games left [provided they get all the way to the final], there’s every chance that David Pocock will play every minute of the rest of Australia’s World Cup. Even if he’s half-crocked, he’ll load up the cortisone powder on his Corti-flakes and get on with the job – he’s one tough bugger.
So, will the Dingo opt to bring out an openside to replace a No8? Or will he bring out another No8? I’m not convinced that there’s another No8 back in Australia who’s going to make any positive impact. Dick Brown? Are you kidding me?
Ridike Samo is more or less the man in possession of the jersey, with Palu missing so much rugby in the recent past that he was only really seen as a guy who might play his way into form if included in the squad. Before the World Cup, he hadn’t played for Australia since November 2009, having suffered serious shoulder and knee injuries that meant he missed the entire 2011 Super XV. From the evidence of the limited part he played in this tournament, he was a long way away from the dominant ball-carrying force that he was in 2008/09.
As a result, more responsibility falls on Samo again. The Mole’s opinion? Not convinced. Not convinced at all. Samo made his international bones running through a clearly incapacitated Adam Thompson and away from a Dan Carter who, in the words of NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, ‘made a business decision’. Watching Carter jog back in Samo’s wake reminded me of Tom Brady’s attempts to get across and make a tackle when he’s thrown an interception – he realises [correctly] that it’s more important that he doesn’t pick up an injury rather than that he makes the tackle.
Samo’s not a bad player by any means, and he’s a great story … but I’m not convinced that he’s the golden bullet that that big run against the All Blacks made him look like.
The name that hasn’t been mentioned here yet is, of course, Scott Higginbotham. For my money Higginbotham was the best Australian loose forward in the later stages of Super Rugby. His starts in the gold jumper have been limited by the presence of Rocky Elsom – I’m sure we’re all aware of the reasons behind that: first it was Rocky was the captain, then it was affording him the time to play himself back into form, and now it’s the fact that he’s playing well.
As a result, we haven’t seen much of a player who, to quote Barack Obama, is ‘fired up, ready to go’. If Higgo can’t force his way into the starting line-up, he should certainly be seeing a hell of a lot more gametime. Can he push himself forward into the starting No8 jersey?