With the impending British & Irish Lions tour to Australia less than two months away, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans must be looking at who will fill the role of playmaker for the prestigious match-ups. There are a number of candidates who could don the number 10 jersey, but who is most eligible?
Despite Cooper’s much-publicised withdrawal from the Wallabies set-up at the end of 2012, the 24-year old is one of the most fitting for the job. Cooper has vast experience in the flyhalf jersey, helping the Wallabies win the 2011 Tri-Nations tournament, as well as assisting in reaching and winning the third-place playoff match at the 2011 Rugby World Cup prior to his injury. Cooper has the ability to make something out of nothing, which is often a match-winning piece of magic, or a move that puts his team under tremendous pressure.
Matt Toomua has been one of the standout performers in this year’s Super Rugby tournament. Toomua has stepped up to the plate and helped the Brumbies achieve the width that has been lacking from the team in recent seasons. He is incredibly strong on defence and while he wasn’t made his Wallaby debut, Toomua is a viable option for Deans if he’s looking for a cool-headed and solid flyhalf.
Christian Lealiifano has had a number of impressive Super Rugby seasons, particularly during 2012, which would have definitely earned him a spot in the end-of-year tour if it wasn’t for an unfortunate broken ankle. Lealiifano has slipped into the centre position for most of this year’s competition, but when he has swapped into flyhalf, he has excelled. Lealiifano has quick hands and great attacking kicks, not to mention an accurate sight for the poles.
Kurtley Beale has had some off-field demons he has needed to deal with in recent times, but Beale’s performances in the Wallaby number 10 jersey at the end of 2012 showed that the 24-year old has more than enough talent and composure to handle the playmaking responsibilities. Beale has the X-factor and pace to stand up any other international flyhalf, and could be a wildcard choice for Deans, if he’s willing to give Beale a chance at redemption.
Berrick Barnes has plenty of experience with the Wallaby setup, and has 50 caps to his name in the gold and green jersey. Barnes hasn’t been playing the best rugby during this year’s Super Rugby season, but everyone knows exactly what the 26-year old is capable of, as Barnes has the game-breaking ability to unlock any world-class defence. Barnes’ dynamic ability to slip into the number 12 jersey, along with his goal-kicking, also gives him an edge to be a choice for Deans.
James O’Connor has to be one of the most unpredictable and versatile players in the world. O’Connor can play wing, centre, fullback and fly-half, and having already racked up 37 caps and over 200 points for his country, he has more than enough experience to handle the playmaking situation. O’Connor was handed the number 10 jersey for a number of games in the 2011 season, showing that he could bring his flashy footwork and exciting passing to the international scene. Deans has to include O’Connor into the fold for the Lions tour, whatever capacity it’s in – he’s too valuable not to.