Bernie backs Gregan

Stephen Larkham has come out in strong defence of his much criticised halfback partner George Gregan.

The pair have played a record 72 Tests for the Wallabies and in excess of 150 for the Brumbies as a combination.

“I think George has been playing extremely well this year and he’s come under a bit of harsh criticism, particularly after the South African game, which the whole side was pretty flat going into,” Larkham told the media.

Gregan was substituted in the second half of that game to make place for Sam Cordingley. This is unheard of, especially in tight games like the Sydney encounter, and speaks volumes about coach John Connolly’s view of the 33-year-old’s ongoing value to his side.

Gregan and Larkham have developed an almost telepathic relationship over their career, and on form are still able to unhinge any defense.

“I’ve got a very good understanding with George,” Larkham said. “I’ve played with him for over 10 years now and I’ve always said I wouldn’t have any other halfback inside me and I think that still holds true today.”

The mercurial flyhalf’s assessment of Gregan’s current form though is open to scrutiny. “George is playing some of the best football of his career.

“All the players in the side are very happy with the way he is playing and very happy with him to be captain because he certainly leads by example.”

Gregan has captained the Wallabies on 56 occasions and Larkham believes he still has a big role to play in the development of the side.

“He takes a lot of pressure off some of the younger players in the team because of the experience he brings.”

One of those players is Waratah’s scrumhalf, Brett Sheehan. Sheehan was the frontrunner to replace Gregan in the August 19 Tri Nations encounter but reports from the Australian training camp suggest that an eye injury sustained in training could hamper his chances of prizing away the No 9 shirt.

He was temporarily blinded after being hit in the eye by the corner of a tackle bag.

“I hope it’s not serious. That wouldn’t be good, would it?” he said to reporters when asked about the extent of the injury.

With Sam Cordingley and Josh Valentine already sidelined through injury, Connolly will be forced to turn to U21 captain Josh Holmes.

The 19-year-old is yet play Super 14 rugby and both Connolly and Larkham have voiced concerns about his readiness.

“The step up from Super 14 to Test level is quite a big step and, to not even have played Super 14 level, it’s going to be a big ask to try and step up and play Test level,” Larkham said.

Connolly will announce his 22-man squad next week.