The Bledisloe Cup and the Rugby Championship are fast approaching, meaning Ewen McKenzie and the Wallabies selectors are starting to make tough considerations as to which locks will play opposite All Blacks second-row combination Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.
With only one week to go it seems as if Brumbies lock and Test rookie Sam Carter is going to get the call-up to start.
Carter was sidelined for five weeks after a incurring a painful ankle injury, which he courageously played through for 70 minutes in his Test debut against France. This, and his physical grit on the pitch, has easily established him as one of the toughest locks in Test rugby.
However, in a recent interview, the indications are that Carter’s physicality and toughness will not wear away when it truly matters. Carter recognised Whitelock and Retallick as the benchmark second-rowers in world rugby, calling them physical, hardworking and mobile.
The ‘One-test Wonder’, as quoted from the Sydney Morning Herald, will most likely be called up to play with Rob Simmons for the first Rugby Championship Test next weekend at ANZ Stadium, against New Zealand.
If Carter is picked, he will take the place of former captain James Horwill. This will be a monumental step for the Wallabies, who may, for once, honour form instead of sticking with players who are constantly in the line-up despite below-par results.
Carter was one of three locks that were, in a sense, ‘trialled’ against France in the opening three Tests of the Wallabies’ 2014 schedule. Carter’s was arguably the standout performance of the three; not just because of the high ankle sprain he played with for almost an entire game, but because of his pure work-rate.
The 24-year-old has an engine like no other lock in the country, quickly folding around corners to make tackles, along with producing brilliant work in the scrum.
Carter will most likely pair up with Simmons, who is a starter known almost purely for his work in the set piece.
Simmons called himself in almost every lineout against the French. This will most likely not be the case against the All Blacks, due to their formidable starting pair. However, Carter has ample jumping ability and will be a solid second option. The lineout will definitely not be as easy against the All Blacks as is was against ‘Les Bleus’, so we may see Carter jump a lot more than in his first Test appearance.
The other important decision McKenzie will face is which lock will come off the bench. It will most likely be the veteran Horwill in the opening Test, but for the remainder of the tournament we may see NSW sensation Will Skelton dress in the kit.
Skelton can sometimes be a liability in the sense that he really can only play out about 55 minutes per game on the paddock. He is also a liability as a jumping option, so he may only be used against 12th-ranked Argentina in the Rugby Championship, purely to outmuscle them.
Although the tyro may not always get the starting position, this does not matter, as coach Ewen McKenzie is just as focused on who closes out the game as who starts it. With Skelton coming off the bench at around the 60-minute mark, it means he will have plenty of gas left to power through tired defenders in the game’s closing stages.
The only problem with options like Carter and Skelton is the pure experience the Wallabies will lack against teams like the All Blacks and Springboks. But a tough initiation against the world’s best will be a tremendous test of the youngsters’ mettle, and could potentially accelerate their development as genuine Test forwards.
At the end of the day, if all doesn’t go to plan, there are still exciting times ahead for the Wallabies. With the current form in the backline and some new stars rising in the forward pack, Australia is well-placed to stake its claim as a genuine contender for next year’s World Cup – but the long road to success in that tournament has to start with a strong showing against the likes of New Zealand and South Africa in the coming weeks.
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