BERRICK BARNES is set to return to the Wallabies five-eighth role for the first time this season against Italy on Saturday, while Timana Tahu is also in line to be given game time during the clash with the Azzurri.
Those who enjoy seeing Barnes at five-eighth would have relished his 27 minutes on the field off the bench against the All Blacks in Hong Kong on Saturday night when he often took over the midfield playmaker role while Giteau shifted out to inside-centre.
The most obvious improvement in Australia’s general play when Barnes came on was a sharper, more accurate kicking game. Upon the team’s arrival in northern Italy after a marathon trip from Hong Kong via Luton, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans hinted that Barnes was likely to be given his chance to again start at No.10 when the tourists meet the Azzurri at Stadio Euganeo. But this is not a sign that Giteau is under any threat at five-eighth or his customary 10-12 combination with Barnes is about to be swapped around.
After all, for three matches during last year’s World Cup, including the quarter-final loss to England, Giteau played outside Barnes at No.10.
It has more to do with Deans wanting to make sure his back-up five-eighth gets ample time in that position in case Giteau gets injured on this demanding tour. Already Giteau has suffered a bad head knock, when he got flattened in Hong Kong, but he has recovered and is scheduled to be available for the Italy Test. The most likely scenario is that Giteau will sit on the bench and Barnes be a central part of a tinkered back line.
Deans said it was crucial he used this tour to give as many players as possible their chance to prove themselves. How he does that will be a balancing act, but game time for Tahu, at No.12, against Italy is almost certain as Deans is eager to help him regain his composure after his stumbles on his first Test start against the Springboks in Johannesburg.
"His [Tahu’s] confidence is coming back through the work he has done at training. But he’s one of those blokes who will be given an opportunity, so that he can press on," Deans said. "As we’re playing six Test matches back to back against quality opposition, including a World XV, we’re going to have to maximise our playing pool. We will target a win in every instance.
"How we do that will come clear week by week as we look at the circumstances. But this is also an opportunity to cater for potential challenges we haven’t encountered yet. One thing we have to cater for is at No.10.
"This was evidenced in South Africa during the Tri Nations when Berrick was injured and suddenly Stirling [Mortlock] was the back-up No.10. We haven’t had an opportunity to prepare for plan B, but we’ve got to do that.
"Barnes right now is our second No.10. But there is a possibility he’ll get some time in that position, which he hasn’t had since this time last year."
Deans added that if Giteau and Barnes were both in consideration for a Test starting line-up, Giteau would be the No.10 and Barnes 12. The Wallabies novices on the tour are instead expected to get their opportunities from off the bench.
Meanwhile, Australian Rugby Union chief John O’Neill is planning to send a formal complaint to the International Rugby Board referee’s chief, Paddy O’Brien, over the performance of Irish referee Alan Lewis during the Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup Test.
Lewis has been widely criticised for his refereeing, including missing a forward pass that resulted in the All Blacks’ winning try and continuously penalising the Wallabies at the scrum and breakdown. O’Neill, who is with the Wallabies to Italy, was one of thousands of Australians in Hong Kong dismayed by Lewis’s performance.