Nick Farr-Jones

Australian rugby great Nick Farr-Jones on the Rugby World Cup

Nick Farr-Jones: When breakdown is critical at the Rugby World Cup

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Wallabies first five-eighth Quade Cooper. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wallabies first five-eighth Quade Cooper. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For some strange reason as I watched the Wallabies soundly outmuscled by the Irish at Eden Park in the Rugby World Cup pool clash I had a good gut feeling about our then likely prospects against the Springboks should we meet in Wellington.

I suspect part of the rationale is having witnessed close up our demise four years ago in Marseilles against the English at quarter-final time when literally the battle started and finished in the first scrum. Australia doesn't compete regularly against the home unions and we are always prone to being ambushed in areas like the scrum which, come sudden-death tournament rugby time, you cannot afford.

At least we know this Springbok pack well and will be more than confident we can compete in the critical areas where battle lines will be drawn early. I cannot emphasise enough how critical our complete forward play is on Sunday as the Springbok game plan will revolve yet again around denying our 9 and 10 in Will Genia and Quade Cooper critical time and space.

I am expecting that the two teams will share the spoils at scrum, lineout and ball in the air. The breakdown will in my view be one of the deciding areas of the match both from the aspect of creating or denying space but also importantly the discipline component which could well decide tomorrow's outcome.

The Bok backrow are well known and reliable. They will be ferocious as usual but I believe the x-factor for the Wallabies at this phase of play is No7 Dave Pocock. He showed enough in the first half against the Russians to suggest to me he is at his absolute best and I expect him to be the guy who will turn this match.

Whether it is his poaching of opposition possession or his almost super-human ability to tackle and regain his feet at the breakdown to then pressure opponents to play within the laws and release the ball, I am tipping his contribution will be enormous.

Where I have real concerns for our prospects, however, is upon discovering that utility player Berrick Barnes has been left out of the starting 15. Don't get me wrong about the man who has been chosen to wear the No 12 jersey in Pat McCabe.

McCabe has all the attributes of an international inside centre but he also adds to the youthfulness of the Wallaby backline which I suspect averages 23 years of age. In tournament rugby where errors of judgment can literally see you on the next plane home I also want to see some experience blended with the youth - guys who have been around the block a few times and have had the bunsen burner turned up on the belly button in crucial games and have come out the other side. This is why I believe Barnes was the obvious selection in the middle of the backline.

I have long maintained that Barnes is one of the game's great thinkers. He has lateral vision in spades which tends to good judgment and provides the Wallabies multiple options to interchange players.

On top of this his skill levels lend to precise execution which is exactly what is required in these types of win-at-all-cost matches.

Believe it or not I am a fan of Cooper and his talents. But I need to see someone totally dependable like Barnes alongside him. My hope is that McCabe, like the great Tim Horan, can step up to the plate but it is a hell of an ask of a young man and a gamble we did not need to take.

I suspect you may see Barnes off the bench early in the second half, particularly if James O'Connor is having any issues with his goal kicking. Perhaps it could be a rerun of Hong Kong last year when Barnes' emergence with 20 minutes to run saw the momentum of the match change when the lads finally overhauled the All Blacks.

But I for one am hoping that coach Robbie Deans is not looking to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the second half. I always thought we would play New Zealand in this World Cup final at Eden Park and I still believe we will. Just a week earlier than I counted on.

- NZ Herald

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