On Sunday the Wallabies squad to meet the touring British and Irish Lions was announced. A squad of 25 with the prospect of a further 6 players being added after the end of the next two rounds of Super 15 action and after the Queensland Reds v Lions fixture on the eve of the test. Much comment in papers (kudos to the Courier Mail for immediately linking him to the Broncos) has been about Quade Cooper missing out and whilst I can not for a second believe he is not in the top 25 players in the country, having heard what Robbie Deans said on Triple M Brisbane, I concede there is a point to his non-selection.
That’s right folks: I have found something Robbie Deans has done to agree with and that is that Quade Cooper needs to take contact more and minimise his turnovers. It is not rocket science: I have been saying this on Twitter for months and having watched every second Cooper has played this season I am happy to consider myself in a position to comment.
That said, as the title of this post would suggest, I do not believe that Quade Cooper missing out on the squad is the biggest story coming out of its naming. The story that should have the focus of rugby journalists and fans alike is the selection of Israel Folau in favour of Jesse Mogg.
Before people jump all over me and suggest that my views here are just sour grapes because of my well publicized disdain for Folau’s turncoatary, I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. Again, I am in the fortunate position to have watched close to 90% of the game time that each of Folau and Mogg have played this season and it based on what I have seen that brings me to the view that I have reached: that the selection of Folau in favour of Mogg is just a travesty.
Let’s be honest here: Folau is a supremely talented athlete, of that fact there can be no denial. To have played with different measures of success all three of the oval ball codes in this country at the highest level is no mean feat. Indeed, save for Brad Thorne, I would be happy enough to suggest that there is probably no better oval ball athlete on the planet (lets wait until he has Thorne’s record before we crown a new king in that regard). The potential in him to be a brilliant rugby player and a mainstay of the Wallabies for years to come is certainly there: if he stays in the game. Therein lies part of the rub here: four seasons of rugby league (two with Melbourne and two with Brisbane), two seasons of AFL (including one in the lower grades) and now 10 games in Super Rugby are indicative of a mercenary looking for the next dollar rather than a committment to a code.
It would be easy here to simply say that Jesse Mogg is a different story, and less of a mercenary, given his history of playing rugby union at school and his selection in the Australia A Schools rugby union side. It would be wrong though to say that because he is a one code man he should get the first nod for this squad. The fact is that his path to the Brumbies was via rugby league and a contract with the Broncos for whom he played in the Toyota Cup.
It would also be easier here to say that Folau should not be selected having only played ten games of Super Rugby in advance of his selection but that would not really be true either given that Mogg is only one season advanced than him when it comes to Super Rugby time in the roll.
If it is not an experience problem and it is not because I think Folau is a mercenary then why then am I so adamant that Mogg ought to have been selected in this Wallabies squad in Folau’s place? It is simple really: I think at this point that Mogg is the better of the two players and at fullback gives more to a Wallabies outfit that looks likely to be short on attacking flair given the centres Robbie Deans has selected. If, as I expect, Folau is named as fullback for the first test then I think one can expect the backline to read something like this: Genia, O’Connor, Horne, Ashley-Cooper, Ioane, Cummins and Folau. If that is the backline selected then there is a glaring deficiency in the back three: the ability to kick for distance and for field position. Bizarrely for a former AFL player, Folau is not much of a kicker of the rugby ball and I don’t believe I have ever seen Ioane kick in general play. Such kicking is going to be vital in a team that will be have a “bash and barge” mentality in attack (again based on the list selected).
There can be no doubt that Folau is creative in attack but again I would countenance that would the position that so is Jesse Mogg. Indeed, anyone who can run 100m in less than 11 seconds as Mogg is alleged to have done in the off season and also throw a long pass like Mogg can must be considered to be an attacking weapon. I would question who is the better defender of the two as well: on the evidence I have seen I certainly would say that I would prefer to have Mogg as my last line of defence than Folau.
This is a test series against the Lions: it is going to be tough and it is going to be won by the best defensive team. Picking a player that is an attacking dynamo but is: learning the game, does not kick in general play and has defensive question marks strikes me as the wrong move when there is a player with equal attacking flair that will be sitting on the sidelines who is an exception kicker in general play and has the edge in defence.
Of course, it must be disclosed that there is a very real prospect that Folau will not play and is in the team for “experience around the group” (a favourite line of Cricket Australia selectors) which means that the O’Connor / Barnes combination at 10/15 beckons. Again, I would think that Jesse Mogg is a better answer at 15 than that combination but he is not in the squad.
My original premise, and the source of my original virulent anger at the exclusion of Mogg for Folau, for this blog was that it simply sends the wrong message to pick Folau after he has left two other codes, has not yet committed to this code and has only played a handful of games. Those are all reasons that could be used to suggest that Mogg ought to have been selected. However that misses the point and the real premise of this post: right now, in my opinion, Jesse Mogg is simply a better player than Israel Folau and that that ought be obvious to anyone who has watched as much of the Super Rugby season as I have.
Whilst Robbie Deans continues to not pick players in form or his “favourite” players (I am looking at you Messrs Timani and Dennis) or players with very limited playing time in Super Rugby this season (Barnes is at the top of that list) there is going to continue to be much angst from fans and pundits of the game. That is the right of a fan of the game. When you pierce through the anger though there also must be concerns around how we are going to win this series with the player group named. For me those concerns would be sated in a smallish way by the selection of Mogg for Folau.
On that note: back to the main story it seems … will Quade Cooper be in a Broncos jersey this season? Or will he be boxing?