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Barnes groomed as Giteau's understudy

By Darren Walton 04/11/2008 03:18:42 PM Comments (0)

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is leaning towards starting Berrick Barnes at five-eighth in Saturday's Test against Italy as he looks to establish a long-term understudy to playmaker Matt Giteau.

The exciting 22-year-old done well for Deans at inside centre but hasn't started a Test since Australia's breakthrough win over South Africa in Durban in August, when he was replaced with a shoulder injury after just 20 minutes.

But he displayed some nice touches when he made his comeback off the bench during the second half of the Wallabies' 19-14 loss to the All Blacks in Hong last Saturday.

With Giteau in doubt for the Italy Test with his own shoulder complaint, Deans believes it may be a good chance to give Barnes some valuable game time in the chief playmaker's role.

Without confirming Barnes would be thrust into the flyhalf hot seat, Deans described the Wallabies' predicament as "an opportunity for us to obviously cater for potential challenges that we haven't encountered yet".

"To date this year, we've probably been lucky," he said.

"It was most evident in South Africa, when Barnesy got injured and Stirling (Mortlock) was our back-up 10 (five eighth), that we haven't had an opportunity to prepare for plan B.

"But we've got to do that. It would be foolish not to provide an opportunity to cater for that potential.

"And obviously Barnesy right now is our second 10. That's pretty evident. So we'll look at how Gits is and then we'll make that decision.

"But there is a possibility that we'll give him (Barnes) an opportunity to get some time in that position that he hasn't had since this time last year."

Barnes last started at five-eighth for Australia in their 12-10 Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to England in Marseille 13 months ago.

His impending recall to the role, be it against Italy or later on the spring tour, shows that Deans was impressed when the former Brisbane Bronco stepped into the position during the pool stages in France after Stephen Larkham broke down.

Deans hasn't completely ruled out Giteau against Italy but will take no risks and probably name his attacking trump on the bench at Thursday's team announcement.

"We'll just wait to get the full medical report," he said. "He's not too bad. He's a bit stiff, but it shouldn't rule him out, hopefully."

Although key forwards Wycliff Palu (knee) and Hugh McMeniman (ankle) are likely to win places in the 22-man squad after recovering from injury, Deans said he would not be handing out Test jumpers willy nilly against the under-rated Italians.

"The reality is when you're playing six Test matches back to back against the sort of quality of opposition that we've got, including a world XV in the last game, we're going to have to maximise the playing pool that we have," Deans said.

"But we will target a win in every instance.

"How we do that will become clear week by week as we look at the circumstances, as well as the individual and their status and their readiness based on injuries, form, etc.

"We've got some talent with us who are clearly going to be Test players in time, but they're not right now. They have talent, so to speak.

"Until they get that apprenticeship time under their belts - and most of the apprenticeship happens through the week, not on the weekend in a game - they'll remain as that.

"So their entry is most likely to be off the bench because the critical thing for them is that, when they do get some involvement, they do well.

"And that accelerates their growth."

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