Barnes' return takes heat off Cooper
NELSON, 2 Oct. - While many rued the recent injuries that decimated the Wallaby back line, Berrick Barnes has calmly taken the chance to re-establish himself as Australia’s first-choice inside centre.
Barnes only just scraped into the World Cup squad after a forgettable domestic rugby season with the New South Wales Waratahs, where he had a lengthy lay-off brought on by a series of concussions.
But his two-try performance against Russia on Saturday, when he relieved pressure on fly half Quade Cooper by providing a second attacking outlet and a deft kicking game, exemplified his value compared with less versatile centre options such as Pat McCabe and Rob Horne.
“Barnesy’s back,” coach Robbie Deans declared. “He had some challenges through his Super Rugby (season) but that’s well and truly historical now.”
Barnes’ successful combination with Cooper should come as no surprise. They played beside each other for three seasons at the Queensland Reds and have established a strong working chemistry.
“A bit of yin and yang there, I suppose, in a lot of respects. We understand each other's games and I try to take the pressure off him when I can,” Barnes said.
A naturally more vocal player than Cooper, 25-year-old Barnes took over the role of marshalling the Australian attack against Russia and spent much of the match barking out orders.
But more importantly for the Wallabies as they prepare for the traditionally tight contests of World Cup finals, Barnes also provides an additional drop-goal option, having previously slotted five for Australia.
"It's another string to your bow and it could become important. We saw that as recently as last night in England's game (against Scotland),” said Deans.
Finding himself on the fringe of the Wallaby squad in August was a dramatic fall from grace for the boy from Brisbane, once touted as the ‘next big thing’ after scoring a try only three minutes into his international debut against Japan at Rugby World Cup 2007.
Barnes went on to start in the side that lost to England 12-10 in the RWC 2007 quarter-final and says the disappointment of that moment still provides motivation in 2011.
“I’ve experienced that game of footy four years ago and it’s not a feeling you want to go through again,” he said.
Deans said this lingering disappointment alone makes Barnes a valuable asset in a young Australian squad lacking World Cup experience compared with South Africa, their probable quarter-final opponents.
"The challenge for our group, those who haven't been involved in a World Cup, is to learn without going through the pain,” Deans said.
“To learn from the counsel from some of these blokes who have been here before and understand the immediacy of what they're confronted with this week."
With his experience to draw on, Barnes had no doubt about the challenge a potential quarter-final against the Springboks would pose.
"They grind you into the ground," he said. "They use their physicality early and no doubt Morné (Steyn) will have the radar on so we'll have to be disciplined."
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