As a player, Wallabies backs coach Stephen Larkham was adamant that the way to get the most from an inside backs combination was to pick it … and stick with it.
But as the 1999 World Cup-winning Wallabies five-eighth conceded on Tuesday not only does the game change, so too does the environment in which players find themselves in.
Reminded of his mantra as a 102-capped player after saying the Wallabies are still uncertain what their best No.9 and 10 combination is, he replied: “I used to like [continuity] because that is the way it was.
“These guys are now used to the fact that it is chopping and changing week to week.
“We will make a decision on our selection based on whether we think [the] combination is going to be important, or whether we think the guys can handle the change week to week.”
Those “guys” being halfbacks Nick Phipps and Will Genia, five-eighths Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper – plus Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale who can all play at No.10.
While the Waratahs pairing of Phipps and Foley ran in a possible best side at training on Tuesday against the Queenslanders, Genia and Cooper, Larkham stressed that between now and the Wallabies’ first World Cup game against Fiji on September 23, selectors will continue to trial every combination possible.
And that includes in training and in their final game before the World Cup – their one-off Test against the USA Eagles in Chicago at Soldier Field on September 5.
“We have a fair idea of who we want to go with, but we have still got a little bit of training to get through and certainly a game against the USA before we finalise [it],” Larkham said.
Pressed on what selectors are looking for, Larkham said: “Consistency in that position is the No.1 thing … So, making sure you are running the team around the paddock, you are taking the right options.”
The merry-go-round approach seems not to worry Phipps, even though it is hard to imagine that any player would not deep down prefer to know their position is locked in.
“I’ve been able to play with all the 10s. Bernie and Quade have played with all the halves,” Phipps said.
“There are not any set combinations … We are all rotating pretty heavily so when we do come under adversity we all know how each other work.”
What is certain, said Larkham, is that the Wallabies side to play Fiji also plays its third pool game against England – so it is likely to be their best – with its second game against Uruguay only four days after the Fiji match.
“The rough plan at this stage is to play our best team against Fiji, or the team we want to play against England against Fiji with a view to putting other guys on the paddock against Uruguay,” Larkham said.
“The problem there for us is that it is a Wednesday game to a Sunday game to a Saturday game … so it’s a fairly awkward start to the World Cup for us.”
So that means several players who have had heavy game loads will be rested for the United States game.
“There are probably a couple of guys that we might have to rest, guys who have played all Super Rugby and every Test match,” Larkham said.
“We are being very careful with our preparation going into the World Cup, making sure our guys are fresh.”
The Wallabies are certainly not downplaying the threat of Fiji who they play at Cardiff.
“We have footage of them. We understand how they are playing and working [and we are] working out some set-piece variation that will work against them,” Larkham said.
“And then [we are also] making sure the rest of our game is pretty solid.”