Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Mark Ella fine with Toomua

Mark Ella. Photo / NZ Herald
Mark Ella. Photo / NZ Herald

Mark Ella was a useful five-eighth, which is a bit like suggesting Bradman could hold a bat.

Ella was a rugby gift for the Wallabies with his glorious array of skills and impulses for the game.

These days he analyses and speaks a great deal about the game which has been going through some tough times on a variety of fronts in Australia.

Like many he shook his head as he watched another very gifted player, James O'Connor, trying to comprehend unfamiliar duties at five-eighths during the Lions series. It was an awkward spectacle.

However, Robbie Deans had conjured up some idea that O'Connor was the key to better backline creativity and persevered with that selection.

The series was dusted, Deans was too and O'Connor was reassigned to the No11 jersey for tonight's Bledisloe Cup bash.

During the Lions series, Ella told the Herald he'd much prefer Matt Toomua or Christian Leali'ifano to guide the backline.

Ella said their motives were not tainted by the pursuit of money or fame.

"We need that sort of player at five-eighths," he said. "We have lost the art of setting a backline going and making the right decisions. Instead, we are dropping deeper or looking to bring individual acts of inspiration."

Those words must have found a home with Ewen McKenzie and had Jake White been picked as coach, he would have slipped Toomua into the five-eighths duties too.

Selection unity. Whew. It wasn't a strong point for the playmaking role in the Wallabies during Deans' era.

Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale and O'Connor all had turns and the quietly spoken Toomua did not like to think he would end up on that scrapheap.

His upgrade is a tribute to his application and the open mind McKenzie brought to the selection table for his opening test gambit. He could have carried some rancour that Toomua knocked back an offer to join the Reds or pandered to popular demands about Quade Cooper.

Instead, he would have quizzed his contacts and spoken to the great Stephen Larkham who looks after the backs at the Brumbies.

He would have heard all the endorsements about Toomua's range of skills and strength on the inside channel where the Wallabies have been touched up in the past. He would have heard about his work ethic and mental tenacity. Then it was up to McKenzie to assess the five-eighths up close in camp, to see how his game worked alongside halfback Will Genia and what that would do to alter the threats from the Wallabies.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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