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Barnes 'a good fit' next to Giteau

By Jim Morton 11/04/2008 07:22:21 PM Comments (0)

Outgoing Wallabies selector Michael O'Connor has put his stamp of approval on Berrick Barnes' move to inside centre which could renew his Test combination with Matt Giteau.

Barnes was Australia's surprise silver lining out of the disappointment of last year's World Cup flop, filling injured playmaker Stephen Larkham's boots with aplomb.

The young Queenslander starred at five-eighth alongside Giteau at inside centre but the pair have swapped positions for their Super 14 teams.

Giteau has relished his move to No.10 to spearhead the Force's finals bid while the skilful Barnes has been less successful at No.12 outside Quade Cooper but shown promising signs.

Inside centre has been the Wallabies' problem position in recent times with the versatile Giteau virtually seen as the only genuine option.

O'Connor, who finished his two-year term as Test selector after the Wallabies' World Cup quarter-final loss to England, believed Barnes was well suited to the role, particularly with Giteau starring at five-eighth.

But he felt the 21-year-old still had lessons to learn, particularly standing closer and deeper in the backline.

"I like the idea of having two ball-players," the dual international said.

"For me personally there are issues there with his alignment and he'll work on that but he just needs some experience there but he's an excellent tackler which I like in a 12.

"He puts his body on the line and tries hard, he's got a big heart. I like him. I like him at 12. He's got such a long strong boot as well.

"It's a good option for him."

Force Mr Fix-It Scott Staniforth was Giteau's back-up at inside centre last year but has again played little time there this season.

Barnes would also be strongly in the mix for five-eighth with young-guns Cooper and Kurtley Beale if disaster and injury struck Giteau.

O'Connor was excited by the whiz-kids' talents but lamented the lack of their senior experience.

"Kurtley and Quade they are going to get better and they will play for Australia, no question," he said.

"These kids, because of the nature of Super 14 sides, they've played no club football and come straight out of school.

"They need experience and they're still putting together parts of their game that need to be worked on."

O'Connor wouldn't mind seeing Cooper taking up former Reds coach Eddie Jones' offer for a short-term stint in England with Saracens in the off-season.

"It wouldn't hurt him," he said.

"It's a different style of game over there.

"I watched London Irish v Perpignan last week and Peter Hewat got man of the match and he did nothing but kicked goals and when he got the ball he kicked it.

"That's English rugby but it's an element of our game that we're not good at really and that's an area of Quade's game he needs to improve.

"And he needs game time."

The Reds haven't dismissed the left-field approach and are keen to see Cooper play more top-quality matches, possibly in the New Zealand NPC, if he fails to make the Test team or Wallabies spring tour squad.

Both Beale and Cooper are prime candidates to share playmaking duties for Australia A in their five-match Pacific Nations campaign as well as the Australian U20s.

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