Turinui: Bring back a bit of 'old school' footy

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by Morgan Turinui

As the Wallabies' 2016 season draws to a close, people will begin to examine how Michael Cheika played his hand.

While there may be no definitive conclusion on many aspects of the season just past, one thing there should be no questions on is the return of the midweek footy on the Spring Tour.

A Wallaby XV took on the French Barbarians at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux the week the Wallabies played a Test match, a rare opportunity in the current rugby landscape.

I was part of the Wallabies' tours of 2004, 2005 and 2006 where midweek fixtures were played. Indeed, in 2006 Australia A played three games, a surprise loss to the Ospreys followed by wins against Ireland A and Scotland A.

I was also privileged to be invited to both observe the Wallabies' preparations for their France Test and assist with the Wallaby XV group in Bordeaux.

The latter was a logistical nightmare as more than 40 players were split over two countries. One group prepared for a Test match against Ireland in Dublin while the other prepared to meet a selection of battle-hardened Top 14 players pulled together under the French Barbarians banner.

Players arrived in dribs and drabs, some released from their foreign clubs to join the tourists and others linking up from the Barbarians. On the Wednesday (a day before the match) three Wallabies players were flown in from Dublin, giving the side one full training session just one day out from the game - not exactly a Test match 'prep'.

Putting the challenges aside, though, the match showed the vital role midweek games can have.

In Australian rugby at the moment we laud the NRC as a bridge between club and Super Rugby. In the same vein, midweek tour matches bridge the gap between Super Rugby and Tests, especially against Northern Hemisphere foes.

We expect and encourage high tempo, multiphase, attractive rugby in Australia, but on a cold and greasy Bordeaux night that wasn't what we had, catching a couple of backs out, having to buy studded boots on game day.

Adaptability is hard to learn without experience and that Bordeaux game will provide lessons that numerous young Australian players will carry with them for the rest of their careers. They'll know how to deal with niggle off the ball, how captains, teams and the crowd can influence referees, when to take three points and when to go for the jugular,

The importance of scoreboard pressure, and that long scrummaging sequences and rolling mauls are not universally considered boring and, perhaps above all, when wearing gold, winning is what counts.

Ultimately, though, this week was a break from a much-practiced routine, throwing some on and off-field challenges at players and staff.

These games are a great idea for that exact reason. Most of these are the guys who want to take the next step and they can take centre stage in midweek matches, after training every day to make the incumbents better.

Ideally, you'd have four Tests on a Spring Tour, with two mid-week matches sprinkled in there, giving every player a chance for development.

A former Reds and Waratahs Centre, Morgan Turinui played 20 Tests for the Wallabies before spending sevens years playing and coaching in France. He is now Assistant Coach at the Melbourne Rebels.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.

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