Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Anzac 'dream team' centenary games idea needs work

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Kieran Read. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read. Photo / Getty Images

Everyone in Australian rugby has theories as the sport suffers in the popularity stakes decided by attendances and television ratings. The Wallabies may be ranked third in the global arena but they are fourth in their own landscape, behind Aussie rules, league and soccer.

The ARU is nearing the end of a windfall Lions tour which has "filled a good hole" in the union's coffers, according to new chief executive Bill Pulver.

It has to. Australia rely on big-ticket items like Lions tours, the 2003 World Cup and transtasman tests to tide them over other seasons.

Their next major is the Lions trip in 2025.

So Pulver was donning his ideas cap this week and coat-tailing an idea launched by his wily predecessor John O'Neill when he suggested a combined All Black-Wallaby side to play the Allies in 2015 as part of Anzac Day centenary celebrations.

Slight problem, of course, in a World Cup season, but it was an intriguing concept. So were the Pacific Islanders when they played the All Blacks in 2004.

That was going to be a regular event but fizzled out in a year. It had some strong appeal, especially as the NZRU continues to ignore matches in the Islands.

But let's take Pulver's idea and make it happen. Imagine - yes, an incredibly long stretch - but imagine the IRB has sanctioned the test and the selection meeting is today.

Who makes the Anzac side on this year's test form?

Before you send in your barrowloads of "what the hell would you know" complaints, that eliminates Richie McCaw, George Smith, David Pocock, Cory Jane, Quade Cooper et al.

And we are only looking at test match form, not the mixed Super 15 contributions of someone like Ma'a Nonu. Get the drift?

It's not quite the same ratio of Kiwis to Convicts that Warren Gatland used with his Wales and the rest in his selection for the Lions tour finale tomorrow.

Three Wallabies make the backline - halfback Will Genia, who is several streets ahead of his Kiwi counterparts in class, Adam Ashley-Cooper and fullback Kurtley Beale.

Beale's sliding runs and ability to get up in the line and question defences has been in contrast to Israel Dagg's sputtering form.

There will be howls across the Ditch about Israel Folau being overlooked but Ben Smith has been the absolute business. Folau does some brilliant work, especially in the air, but he does go missing at other times, as you'd expect from a very talented but raw rugby rookie.

It's very close at centre but the experienced Ashley-Cooper edges Conrad Smith out by a smidgen with his defence tagged on to positional and support play.

Move into the dark recesses of the pack and Wallaby captain James Horwill gets a tick and a slap at the same time to keep his discipline in check. But he does galvanise his side, loves the heavy work and has worked on upping his tight five's production.

He will have half the pack for conversation.

Blindside flanker Ben Mowen brings an articulate edge, which translates into a sharpening career. He has traversed three franchises to nail the job but in two tests he has been a reliable, accurate workhorse to complement his tight forwards.

Stephen Moore bridges the props in a Wallaby front row which has oodles of experience and has given the Lions enough to think about in the scrums. The Lions have been hot and cold there in a facet of their play that must have concerned the staff.

Sturdy loosehead Benn Robinson makes his move after his tussles with Adam Jones, the best Lions tighthead. Robinson has coped and also had time to make his scuttling runs and bone up on defence.

Who's your captain? Kieran Read or James Horwill? Both have been in grand form and most coaches favour someone in the pack but with the votes split, the dynamic Genia has sneaked through and will lead out the composite side.

"Take the best of Australia and New Zealand," Pulver said this week. "A concept I would love to develop - 2015 is the centenary of Anzac Day. Imagine playing a combined Australia-New Zealand team against an Allies team."

The Lions series had helped the financial bottom line of Australian rugby. "It's filled a good hole. We had aggressive budgets in place and it's met those budgets," Pulver said, "so in some ways there's an extra year that opens itself up to a couple of interesting concepts.

"We're about to embark with the Australian Rugby Union on a strategic planning process and it really does invite a lot of creative thought to think of a Lions equivalent from the Southern Hemisphere.

"We're not very far down the track at all in terms of discussion around that. Some of the countries in the Southern Hemisphere are actually concerned about the amount of rugby that their senior players are playing, so it needs to be addressed in that context."

The Wallabies play 15 tests this year and the CEO was comfortable with that volume. After the Lions series, they play the Rugby Championship and an extra Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin before a five-test tour of Europe.

Wynne Gray's form Anzac XV

Fullback: Kurtley Beale (Australia)
Wings: Ben Smith, Julian Savea (New Zealand)
Centre: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Aus)
Second-five: Ma'a Nonu (NZ)
First-five: Daniel Carter (NZ)
Halfback: Will Genia, captain (Aus)
No8: Kieran Read (NZ)
Openside: Sam Cane (NZ)
Blindside: Ben Mowen (Aus)
Locks: Sam Whitelock (NZ), James Horwill (Aus)
Props: Owen Franks (NZ), Benn Robinson (Aus)
Hooker: Stephen Moore (Aus).

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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