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Midfield minefield Down Under

There is no shortage of talent, but finding the right combination may prove to be the biggest headache facing Wallaby coach Robbie Deans as we look at his midfield options.

 

The biggest loss to the Wallaby backline is the absence of the injured James O'Connor. While he was not used in the midfield last year, his role was vital in providing balance to the entire backline combination. Not only was he the first-choice goal-kicker, but as an additional play-maker he often came off his wing to cause havoc.

 

That means Deans will have to think long and hard about a combination that will fill that gap – a hard-running, goal-kicking player that can pop up anywhere at any time.

 

The most consistent selection in the midfield last year was Pat McCabe at No.12 and he has done nothing that suggests he will be cast on the scrap heap.

 

However, Adam Ashley-Cooper – who often slotted in at outside centre – may have to fill O'Connor's spot on the wing.

 

That may necessitate a positional switch for McCabe.

 

It could see Berrick Barnes coming in No.12, where he has often featured as the additional play-maker, with either McCabe or Anthony Fainga'a at outside centre.

 

Fainga'a and McCabe has also featured as a midfield combination, which would leave Barnes to fill the utility role on the bench. 

 

Of course there is a strong argument to be made for Ashley Cooper and Barnes as the midfield combination – where they have played with success – but it will leave a gaping hole on O'Connor's wing.

 

Wallaby midfield:

 

Starting:

 

12 Berrick Barnes:

Maybe not as famous for his code-hopping as some other Rugby League types, but Barnes made his debut in the National Rugby League competition in 2005, aged 18, and the next year swapped codes and signed with the Reds. Although he has featured more at flyhalf for the Waratahs recently, his qualities as an inside centre makes him ideal to play next to mercurial flyhalf Quade Cooper.

 

13 Pat McCabe:

The 24-year-old McCabe is the epitome of an Australian back – a utility player, able to cover inside centre, outside centre, wing or fullback. But he often looks more at home in the midfield, where he featured in most of Australia's Tests in 2011. His only problem is a succession of injuries – most notably a 2009 knee injury and a shoulder injury last year.

 

Bench:

 

22 Anthony Fainga'a:

Another of Australia's League 'converts', Fainga'a began his football career as a five-year-old with the Queanbeyan Kangaroos (Rugby League). However, he made his switch at school. Twin brother of Saia, he is a linchpin in the Reds backline, forging the reputation of an absolute enforcer in defence.

 

By Jan de Koning

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