Wallabies & wannabes - inside centre

by RUGBY.com.au staff

The Incumbent – Berrick Barnes

Barnes may have only laid claim to the number twelve jersey late in the 2010 campaign, however he quickly established himself as the premier inside centre in the country building a healthy combination with flyhalf Quade Cooper.

More direct than flashy around the paddock, Barnes emergence as a Wallaby since his debut in 2007 has been an up-and-down battle with both form and injury, however 2010 saw the former league player leapfrog veteran playmaker Matt Giteau to claim the No. 12 jumper and finish the Spring Tour of Europe as a senior Qantas Wallabies back.

A capable goal-kicker, consistent defender, decision-maker who possesses a controlling right-foot, Barnes’ armoury of skills would make any player envious, however an injury-plagued start to the 2011 season may put a dent in his chances of re-claiming his starting position come Test time. An expanded Super Rugby season, however, should see Barnes return for the Waratahs in the coming weeks, providing him with plenty of game time to prove his worth and stay in the race for the much sought after Gold jersey.

The Contenders –

Matt Giteau

Capped on 91 occasions at Test level, Matt Giteau has been associated with the Qantas Wallabies midfield for almost a decade after originally being picked on the 2002 Spring Tour having not even played a Super Rugby match. The veteran ACT playmaker, capable from halfback to inside centre, has acted as a rock in the Australian backline since making the jersey his own in 2004, following the retirement of Elton Flatley. Earlier in the year Giteau announced that he will end his ten-year domestic career at the conclusion of this seasons Rugby World Cup, accepting an offer to join the star-studded French outfit, Toulon.

Light-footed, energetic and another of the Australian backs capable in-front of goal, like incumbent Barnes, Giteau is yet to start at inside centre in 2011 after beginning the season in the No.10 jersey for the Canberra-based Brumbies.

A John Eales Medallist in 2009, Giteau is arguably one of the most exciting and dangerous players in the world – when on song – but has struggled in recent years to capture his devastating form. The most-likely of the contenders to re-gain the starting spot, Giteau will be hungry to end his Test career on a high come July.

James O’Connor

A contender in almost every position in the Qantas Wallabies backline, whiz-kid James O’Connor is undoubtedly an option at inside centre for years to come but has shown form early in 2011 to suggest the 20-year-old might be ready for the key position sooner than first thought. An electric start to the Super Rugby season in the No. 10 shirt for his beloved Western Force, O’Connor may just be the outside option Quade Cooper requires running off him.

The incumbent right wing for the Qantas Wallabies, following the shock-decision to move the youngster there in 2010 paid off in huge dividends, O’Connor’s early-form at No. 10 has got many questioning whether or not he should be closer to the ball come Qantas Wallabies time. A longstanding friendship with incumbent flyhalf Quade Cooper, plus healthy combinations with incumbent fullback Kurtley Beale, the kid they call “Rabbit” may just be the final piece to Robbie Deans’ selection-puzzle.

Anthony Faingaa

A starter in the Qantas Wallabies twelve-shirt in 2010, Anthony Faingaa has quickly become one of the more likeable characters in Australian Rugby in recent years. A player in the true Robbie Deans mould of hard-working, enthusiastic and passionate, the Canberra-born Queensland Red is also arguably the most defensively-sound of all midfield contenders.

A true product of the Australian Rugby pathway, Anthony represented Australia at Schoolboy, Under 19 and 21 level before being selected in the Sevens program in 2007. The twin brother of fellow Reds and Qantas Wallabies squad member Saia, Anthony flourished under the guidance of Ewen McKenzie following his arrival at the Reds in 2010 and was rewarded with a Test debut off the bench against the All Blacks in Melbourne.

In no way a guarantee to even appear throughout the June Test series, let alone the Rugby World Cup come September, Anthony Faingaa is however a bolter seen by many as the most-deserving of the Australian twelve shirt. An inexperienced option should Deans choose to use the former Brumby, Anthony will no doubt be out to appear in the RWC squad of 30 alongside brother Saia.

Stirling Mortlock

The man who many thought was past his best and fading away into the background of Australian Rugby, former Qantas Wallabies skipper Stirling Mortlock has bounced-back to feature as a potential bolter in the 2011 national squad. The last man to have skippered a Qantas Wallabies outfit to the RWC, Mortlock would no doubt be priceless in adding both experience and guidance to the youthful Aussie squad.

A Rebel in 2011, Mortlock has begun the newest chapter in his decorated Rugby career with devastating early-season form through the Melbourne midfield. A step closer to the action after Rod Macqueen elected to use the 80-Test veteran in the 12 and not his preferred 13 shirt, the former Qantas Wallabies skipper has adapted to his new role in fine fashion.

Another possible goal-kicking option for Deans to have up his sleeve, Mortlock’s trademark straight-and-hard style of attack may be the missing ingredient in the Qantas Wallabies make-up with their wide, attacking potential already obvious across the board.