Queensland Reds goalkicking sharpshooter Mike Harris is not the only transplanted Kiwi starting to stake a claim for Wallabies selection, with Western Force lock Toby Lynn fast emerging as one of Australia’s form second-rowers.
Lynn has retained his position in the Force second-row alongside milestone man Nathan Sharpe, who will become the first person to play 150 Super Rugby matches when he takes the field against the Hurricanes in Perth on Friday night despite the fact that one of the form locks of 2011, Sam Wykes, is back from injury.
It was not entirely surprising that Wykes was named on the bench after missing the Force’s first two fixtures – against the Brumbies and Queensland Reds – with a hamstring injury, but impressive as he was last season there are no guarantees he will displace Lynn even when he gains some match fitness.
Although Lynn played 32 Super Rugby matches for the Chiefs and double that number of national provincial games for Waikato, he has not represented New Zealand at any level – which is handy for Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, because the 26-year-old qualifies to play for Australia, thanks to grandfather Mac, who was born in Kondinin, 279km east of Perth.
Certainly, Force coach Richard Graham is happy to sing Lynn’s praises as a Wallabies contender, particularly in a year in which Sharpe’s Test career will come to an end and continuing uncertainty clouds Dan Vickerman’s future.
“It’s the best time to be a lock in Australia for any number of years,” Graham said.
“I do think there’s a great opportunity for Toby. His set-piece work has been very good and his work in the tight has been abrasive and accurate.”
Reds lock Rob Simmons, one of the incumbent Wallabies second-rowers, admitted to being highly impressed by Lynn when he confronted him last weekend in Brisbane.
“He’s a hard worker,” Simmons said. “With Sharpie doing a lot of ball carries for the Force, he complements him well by getting the job done in the tight.”
The Force are still awaiting the outcome of scans of Test No.8 Ben McCalman’s shoulder after he complained of numbness down his arm against the Reds and was replaced at half-time. The hope is that the injury will not keep him out for more than a match or two.
Curiously, Graham has not taken the easy option of directly replacing McCalman with former Wallabies No.8 Richard Brown, likewise making his first appearance of the season after an injury setback, but instead has slotted Brown in at blindside flanker and switched Matt Hodgson to the back of the scrum.
“That allows us to achieve something tactically,” Graham said cryptically.
As impressively as the Force halves worked in the second 40 minutes in Brisbane when James Stannard switched from five-eighth to halfback to allow Ben Seymour to makes his Super Rugby debut, Graham has opted for his senior halfback pairing of Brett Sheehan and Stannard, with Seymour off the bench.
Seemingly the Force coach wants to see how Stannard, his most experienced 10, goes in company with former Wallabies winger/fullback Cameron Shepherd who also is returning from injury.
“My expectations are that Shepherd will assist Stannard with the control of the game,” Graham said. “His communication and organisational skills will be important.”
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen, meanwhile, will speak from painful first-hand experience when he warns his team not to underestimate the bottom-placed Cheetahs in Canberra on Saturday afternoon.
Mowen was a member of the New South Wales Waratahs side booed off the park last year after being blitzed 26-3 by the Cheetahs, the first game the team from Bloemfontein had won in Sydney.
“We’ll be very wary of them,” he said.
“They didn’t play their best footy last weekend when beaten (51-19) by the Bulls but whenever a side is beaten like that they inevitably produce a good performance on the back of it.”
by Buford Balony