If I were Knuckles …(updated)

I would wake up and thank God that I am not only a professional rugby coach but the coach of the potential triple-RWC champions. On that note, I would quickly down my morning nip before my thoughts went any further!

As it is I am not he, and so I shall merely speculate as to what he might do.

The first step is to work out one’s goal. Connolly is no fool, and he knows that nice as it is to fill the cupboard, the Cook Cup will be up for grabs in another two years, but he’ll never have another crack at the William Webb Ellis trophy. So his goal is to win the RWC, and especially now that he has a strong win under the belt, winning this week’s game in Melbourne is of secondary importance.

With this in mind:

  • Jeremy Paul gets dropped entirely, since the scrum was strong enough to hold without him and he has proved his point, whereas Freier and McIsaac need every minute of English scrum-school they can get.
  • Since ditto for every prop, Freier starts with Blake and old pal Baxter, with Robinson to come off the bench.
  • Tired man-of-the-match Elsom gets replaced with big-hitter (very heavy 120kg) Palu, with Fava on the bench. Palu gets a big chance here, since no-one has yet filled Owen Finegan’s shoes, and I think Connolly would love to have Owen Finegan playing for him.
  • logically, injured Heenan gets replaced at blindside by Waugh. But I suspect Mark Chisholm might get a start instead, because he is 22cm taller. But that would leave them with no line-out forward on the bench, unless exhausted Elsom stays in the squad”¦I never understood why versatile lock/blindside/no 8 John Roe didn’t make the squad, and now it seems even weirder. Maybe he gets called up, and Vickerman, whose spot is in no doubt, rested??
  • If not Vickerman-Sharpe-Smith-Palu-Chisolm; Chisholm-Sharpe-Smith-Palu-Fava.
  • Gregan, apparently with a cork anyway, gets dropped, and Valentine starts with Cordingley to get a run at the end, followed by a bench spot against Ireland behind the refreshed Gregan. (I would put Gregan on the bench against Ireland, but no-one else would).
  • Rogers may be injured, if he is, Staniforth replaces him, if he isn’t, Staniforth to replace Mortlock, at least off the bench.
  • If Cameron Shepherd is in the squad, we may as well get a proper look at him ergo him to start at Latham’s expense (but Gerrard at fullback and Shepherd on the wing).

That makes for Blake-Freier-Baxter-Vickerman-Sharpe-Chisolm-Palu-Smith-Cordingley-Larkham-Shepherd-Staniforth/Rogers-Mortlock-Tuquiri-Gerrard.

As for England, it is worth repeating that this is not a full team, so I have no idea who they will change. Maybe the hooker, not the props, certainly at least one lock, certainly not Sanderson, at least one flanker. Their halfback is too green but that’s all the more reason to keep running him once you’ve decided to try him at all. I think they need a bigger centre, and then their real dilemma is Varndell.

He is really fast and can step, which means you ideally want him in your RWC team. What’s more, drier Melbourne, with minimal rain forecast, will suit him. But it will also mean he will have to make a lot more tackles and will be turned around a lot more”¦ Given that this is just an experimental tour anyway, I think they’ll stick with him. But he is running out of time to take absent Ben Cohen’s spot.


I should have pointed out this link to the ARU video highlights.  I didn’t realise how good the build-up to Blake’s try was!  If that is how they play in Melbourne, and it is certainly how they will try and play, they’ll put 50 points past England.  That said, the first clip makes it clear how close England came to opening us up a couple of times – and just how Sanderson found such a big gap to run through: Magnus Lund held on tight to George Smith’s waistband!!   

Basically both sides lacked finishing touches in the first half.  My tip for Melbourne is that the scrum will be basically a draw but whoever gets the ball wide will open the other team up.  Given that Australia, almost irrespective of who runs on, has a much better line of  tacklers (imho) than England, England absolutely must get some forward movement from their forwards.  That being unlikely on last week’s showing, unless the new second-rowers surprise us all, that makes my tip Australia, and with the whole bench getting a run.  


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17 years ago

Rodney Blake’s scrummaging is technically terrible. He can’t get low enough, and he doesn’t think quick enough on his feat. I would axe him first. McIsaac couldn’t get his front row to pack low enough either- so I’d much rather have Jeremy Paul in the starting line up.

Coaches who think that they can sure up the scrum by simply adding size and weight are in a lot of trouble. It’s like waving the white flag and admitting you have no plan to improve a teams scrummaging. I would axe Connolly immediately for going the fat scrum option- it’s a quick fix that just about never works.

Look at Tom Smith and Andrew Blades- You don’t have to weigh 130kgs to be a good scrummager. You have to be strong and technically correct. Most importantly you have to ensure that you are transfering as much of the combined weight of the pack onto the opposition- not into the dirt, or high in the sky like Blake.

Shame Knuckles Shame

17 years ago

I agree completely about Jeremy Paul, and I should be clear that if I wanted to win this match above all I would pick him without a second’s hesitation. As it is I, (and I am sure Connolly) wants to give Freier a go and then may as well give McIsaac a second shot. After all they weren’t so bad that we were going to lose the match, anyway.

I agree about the importance of technique, as well. But technique is experience, and that is why I don’t agree that Blake, or McIsaac, should be judged to harshly on that performance. They were up against two very good props with three decades of top-flight scrummaging between them, and what’s more, in terrible conditions.

Blake especially can’t be that bad given how Qld has scrummed this year, and the Force as well were reasonably solid. There is a big gap between even S14 and test rugby, and I think that with a dozen matches under their belts Blake, Robinson, Baxter and Holmes should be a good squad of props. Saturday’s drier and hopefully firmer pitch will give us a much better idea of their skill.

Finally, in stodgy wet weather like Sunday night, common in the Pays-Basque/Pyrenees of France, I’d say that weight is valuable. You don’t have to be more than the other team, but you do want to be in the same ball-park. Also, Blake is not technically a ‘fat’ prop – he used to weigh 150kgs, so he is really in decent shape (if he plays a second whole game this week, which I doubt he will, he is very good shape indeed).

17 years ago

I should mention that it appears that the squad is going to be much more conservative than I had hoped, and particularly Elsom is going to start again, apparently. Which is understandable since he doesn’t have any other jumpers, but highlights how weird it is that Fava and Palu are both in the squad with only Chisholm to back up the locks and not John Roe.

Also my idea of dropping Latham must be a remote possibility – hopefully he will be subbed earlier then. I really think we should be using these games to work out who our reserves are, given that players like Latham, Mortlock, Smith, Sharpe, Vickerman, Gregan and in a slightly different category Larkham are all clear selections.

England meanwhile look like they will indeed make the changes I thought but probably both locks. Fair enough too since neither did anything, but given that they are both beginners it might have been worth sticking with one of them and bringing the other off the bench.