Rugby World Cup: McCabe will add steel to midfield

By Iain Payten

Pat McCabe.
Photo / Getty Images
Pat McCabe. Photo / Getty Images

Pat McCabe will return to toughen up the Wallabies midfield against the Springboks with even Australia's most dynamic attackers now conceding their daring brand of running rugby won't win them the World Cup.

McCabe ran in the No 12 role at Wallabies' training yesterday after recovering from a shoulder injury, and his selection over Berrick Barnes is a nod to the aggressive work he delivered in the contact zone during the Wallabies' Tri-Nations triumph.

With a wet slog expected, coach Robbie Deans has preferred McCabe's directness over two play-makers.

But it could also be viewed as a curious choice to omit Barnes, given comments from Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper yesterday when they revealed they would kick heavily in Wellington - and even take field goals - because of the fact that like the dour 2007 version, free-flowing attack is too risky at this World Cup.

"It's the way the game has been played, if you back yourself too much at this World Cup, sometimes it can be to your detriment," Cooper said yesterday.

Barnes' composure was missed during the Wallabies' loss to Ireland but whereas he wasn't even on the bench as a plan B, it's likely he'll be in the 22-man squad against the Boks when the team is named tomorrow.

Digby Ioane will return to the left wing, with Adam Ashley-Cooper staying at No 13 and Beale resuming at fullback after a week off. Dan Vickerman is expected to return to lock and Rocky Elsom to No 6.

The Wallabies got a taste of the wild weather Wellington may turn on, with sideways rain and freezing winds buffeting their session at Porirua Park.

It has rained in every game Australia have played so far, and Beale and Cooper said the weather - and the refereeing at the World Cup - meant they must largely ignore their attacking instincts and follow the other teams: hoof the ball and pressure.

"We have to adapt a fair bit, in terms of kicking the ball a little bit more and in terms of adapting to the conditions, and the way the game is being played. A lot of teams are putting pressure on the attacking side by kicking the ball to them and letting them run it, and see if they gain a penalty out of it," Cooper said.

"We have to know when it's on to have a crack [but] otherwise do what the other teams have been doing. Give them the ball, let them have a go and try and force a penalty out of it."

It was put to Cooper that sounds dangerously like the boring, kick-fest rugby played at the last World Cup, widely regarded as the worst yet.

"If you look back to 2007, it was much the same. It wasn't the best football but you have to do what you have to do, to get the job done," Cooper shrugged.

Robbie Deans said the Wallabies got an education of World Cup rugby in the Ireland loss, and Beale said the lessons boiled down to one word: patience.

"Sometimes we try too hard to make the big play happen. We know now. A lot of teams are doing it, just plugging the corners, putting the bomb up and chasing through, because the game is totally different compared to Super 15," Beale said.

With no Barnes - at least for the first half - the Wallabies will lean on Cooper, Beale and Will Genia for strategic kicking. Beale said reining in their urges to run the ball won't be hard, but they still must recognise and swoop when the space opens up.

"We are happy to sit behind our forward pack, we have a lot of belief in them," Beale said.

"We can just sit there all day. We can sit there until the 79th minute and if that's when the opportunity comes, we can take it then."

- NZ Herald

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