Can we talk about the elephant in the room?
The Wallabies brought back five players from overseas clubs for their recent campaign via the ‘Giteau Law’, which allows overseas-based players to play for Australia if they had previously played 60 Tests and seven seasons of Super Rugby.
The contentious rule change – ostensibly brought in last season to end Toulon superstar Matt Giteau’s four-year Test hiatus – opened the floodgates for Wallabies selectors to pick expats playing for European teams.
Let’s break down how each player seconded from the Northern Hemisphere went in this year’s Rugby Championship.
Started on the left wing in the opening two games against the All Blacks, keeping vice-captain Rob Horne and rookie sensation Reece Hodge on the bench.
In his first game he had seven runs for 33 metres and made five tackles from eight attempts. The veteran was not dominant on either attack or defence in the manner we’ve become accustomed to from AAC. In his second outing, Ashley-Cooper lasted 16 minutes with one tackle before he got injured. He then hobbled back to France as his Bordeaux team didn’t grant release for any further involvement in the Championship.
— Sports Goods 4 Less (@4RugbyandSoccer) September 3, 2016
Mitchell started his 2016 international duties in the third game against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium, coming off the bench for 16 minutes and making one tackle and one run for 15 metres. It seems he was brought in to nurture the new outside backs, but the Wallabies would have been better to hire another coach instead of a player filling in a spot on the roster.
TRANSFER RUMOUR: And when one brother leaves, the other must follow. Hearing Drew Mitchell will also leave Toulon most likely to Super Rugby pic.twitter.com/SMCpLzolR1
— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) October 17, 2016
Giteau is the reason we are talking about this, with Michael Chieka desperate to get him back for the 2015 World Cup. The No.12 lasted 11 minutes of his only Test this year, however, with one run and one tackle before getting injured.
Giteau could have been a great asset to the Wallabies in the centres, although at the age of 33 (now 34) he would have struggled to make it to the next World Cup. Cheika has since had to persevere with Bernard Foley at inside centre.
TRANSFER RUMOUR: Talk that Matt Giteau will be announcing his retirement from rugby at the end of the year. pic.twitter.com/4HGzysz9Qd
— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) October 17, 2016
Genia has played every game in the series and has been the only good thing to come out of this selection policy. But guess what? He can’t play in the Bledisloe Cup Test this week because his French club won’t let him.
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) October 14, 2016
A borderline case as he’s since inked a deal to return to Super Rugby in 2017, but the enigmatic No.10 was nevertheless a Toulon player earlier this year. Cooper wormed his way back into the Wallabies’ starting line-up following World Cup hero Foley’s failures against England and the All Blacks this season.
Cooper, kept out of the first-choice starting side during the World Cup, has had some good moments since reclaiming the 10 jersey, but whether the inconsistent 28-year-old and Foley are the long-term answer as Australia’s inside-back combination is still very much in question.
— Jim Tucker (@HulaBulaJim) September 11, 2016
What a waste of time! With Matt Giteau coming back it could have solved the problems in the midfield that the Wallabies are having right now, but at the age of 34 he would only be a temporary fix. There was no chance he was going to make it to the next World Cup, which all international teams should be working towards.
Every team has to rebuild this year – including the undefeated All Blacks – but they have planned for it, unlike the Wallabies.
Adam Ashley Cooper and Drew Mitchell were among the best wingers in the world in their prime and were great at last year’s World Cup. But now both are over the age of 30, and with young talent like Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty, Rob Horne, Sefanaia Naivalu and Luke Morahan to name a few, it boggles the mind why they would bring back these two players again.
Like Giteau, neither stalwart would be in contention when the next RWC rolls around in 2019 – if they are still playing at all.
Will Genia has obviously been great this year, which begs the question: why did we let him go to France? Or why aren’t they actively trying to get him back home now to prepare for the next World Cup? Australia is so limited with halfbacks, and the ARU should be getting out the cheque book to lure the 28-year-old back to our shores.
Nick Phipps is erratic and Nick Frisby (although he has a sensational last name) doesn’t quite have that temperament to play Test footy yet.
I think South Africa is a great example of the rebuilding process. They have picked the best young talent going around at the moment and are trying to make it work – short-term pain for long term gain.
They got rid of all the old players and rejuvenated their team with young up-and-comers; even if results are favourable right now, they should see the benefits in seasons to come.
Obviously the All Blacks were always going to play well coming out of the 2015 World Cup with so much depth. Their bench at the World Cup was full of young guns ready to step in the shoes of the outgoing older players.
New Zealand does, however, still have some old players in there team – but those two or three are still at the peak of their powers with a few good years still left in them, not aging veterans who are well past their best.
The Wallabies should have looked in their own backyard for this type of experience instead of falling back on overseas-based stars, whose competitive edge has to be questioned if they were willing to forego their Test jumper and possible Super Rugby success in the first place.
Furthermore, playing against the best New Zealand and South Africa has to offer on a regular basis in Super Rugby has to be the best preparation for the rigours of Test rugby.
The Wallabies rugby fraternity has been blinded by the star power that these overseas players held back in the early 2010s. The ‘Giteau Law’ was always destined to be a retrograde step with its namesake, and the likes of Ashley-Cooper and Mitchell, not being anywhere near as good as they were.