Former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons, declaring he wants neither Tevita Kuridrani nor Israel Folau at outside centre against England.
Not because he doesn’t rate either, but because he’s hoping Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opts for Queensland Reds powerhouse Samu Kerevi instead.
Mortlock, who played the bulk of his 80 Tests at outside centre, believes it’s a “no brainer” for Kerevi to partner in-form Kurtley Beale in the centres if the Fiji-born 22-year-old recovers, as expected, from a broken hand in time for the three-Test series starting on June 11.
“I’ve been really impressed with Samu’s work ethic and ability to dent the (defensive) line,” Mortlock told AAP on Thursday.
“If you look at his stats, his ball carries are up there with the most in Super Rugby, he’s also high on offloads and metres gained.
“He’s everything you want in a 13 – a really physically dominant centre who gets a lot of touches on the ball – and he’s been a standout in a team that’s under-performing. That’s even more difficult to do.
“I wish him well in his recovery and I really hope he gets a crack.”
Mortlock said, while incumbent Wallabies No.13 Kuridrani had done nothing wrong and there had been calls for Folau to make the move to the centres at Test level following his successful transition in Super Rugby, he wanted Folau to remain at fullback.
“I am absolutely categorically against playing world’s best players in their positions out of position,” he said.
“I’ve seen it happen too many times where it backfires and I saw first-hand how it backfired for the All Blacks when they played Leon McDonald, who was an outstanding No.15 (fullback) at 13 (centre) when (Tana) Umaga was injured (in the 2003 World Cup semi-final).”
Mortlock also hoped Folau wasn’t asked to defend in the front line too much if picked at fullback against Eddie Jones’ ambitious and resurgent England.
“Izzy is a phenomenal fullback and I want to see him fresh as a daisy when he’s returning the ball in unstructured play – and with free rein to come up when he likes,” he said.
Mortlock agreed with most judges that Beale should be the inside centre, given Cheika appears to be leaning toward resting European-based players including Matt Giteau until likely calling on them for the Rugby Championship.
“I love KB at 12,” Mortlock said.
“He’s a great ball distributor and being one more out (from five eighth) also opens up his running game and x-factor that you like to see from Kurtley.”
The former Wallabies skipper would retain Bernard Foley at five-eighth and have his NSW Waratahs teammate Nick Phipps “for his heart and soul” as his halves partner.
Mortlock’s wingers would be Joe Tomane and probably the experienced Rob Horne, although he didn’t rule out Melbourne Rebels’ Tom English as a bolter.