Wycliff Palu’s strain against the USA has opened up a fortuitous door for one old New South Wales veteran. Famed outside Australia for his constant battle for the Wallabies number 7 shirt with George Smith during the last decade, Phil Waugh’s physicality and ability in the tackle have won him plenty of admirers, and rightly so.
It would be quite the fairytale ending to a long career if Waugh was enabled to have one last crack at a Rugby World Cup. The winner of the John Eales Medal back in 2003, the award given to the best player in the Wallaby side over the last year, Waugh’s last cap came against France in Sydney two years ago, but his form has remained consistently very good for the Waratahs in Super Rugby. Furthermore, Waugh is an excellent leader, the type of player who is as important to the squad as he is on the pitch.
If he came into the side, it would give Australia a decidedly more experienced look in the back row, where behind the starting trio of Rocky Elsom, David Pocock and Radike Samo plus the promise of Scott Higginbotham, Australia are not blessed with world class performers. Waugh, much like Lewis Moody for England, is that kind of all-action player who throws himself into everything, be it rucks or bodies. This dedication though is also part of his leadership on the pitch, having captained the Waratahs for years.
More importantly, that level of physicality was a big part of Ireland’s dominance against the Wallabies in their match a couple of weeks ago, and Australia know that if they are going to seriously compete in the knockout stages, that is one area where they have to improve. The most capped player in New South Wales history offers plenty that others fail to match.
One of the many images of Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal back in 2003 shows Waugh with arms outstretched in the air, his face an excruciating mixture of horror and desperation. He was there again in 2007, when once again the Wallabies crashed out. He would relish one last shot at it. It may seem a bit of an outside bet, but bigger shocks have happened when it comes to selection. If I was Waughy, I’d be waiting by the phone.
by Ben Coles