Knuckles in selection quandary

After constant shuffling of his team John Connolly has admitted that he is no closer to knowing what his best combinations are.

The embattled coach has watched as his side have drawn against Wales, struggled to overcome minnows Italy and been comprehensively outplayed by Ireland on their year-end tour.

Yet for all his promises of an improved Australian outfit, he can’t disguise what is fast becoming a dire situation for the 2003 World Cup finalists.

“We have shuffled the deckchairs around a lot and maybe what we had back in June is the best we have,” he told Greg Growden of the Sydney Morning Herald.

“You have heard me say, time and time again, how we are so loose on the field. We have to tighten our game up, as we make so many silly mistakes at the wrong time.

Connolly blamed the Wallabies’ inconsistency and poor execution for their bad showings recently and urged his team to be resilient when it mattered most.

“I don’t know whether it is a culture thing or what. We talk the talk at times, but I think we can toughen ourselves up a bit. We really have to toughen up on the field. We can play so well at times – such as when we were running into the wind against Ireland. But when we have the wind we play poorly. Is it a mental thing? I can’t work it out.

“And against Wales, we played some of the best football you could see, but on the other side of the coin, we played some poor footy as well. That’s been happening all year with this team.”

Since Matt Giteau’s move to scrumhalf the Wallabies have lacked linebreaking punch in midfield, which even the muscular Sterling Mortlock/ Lote Tuqiri combination failed to remedy against an Irish side who were outstanding on defence.

Connolly acknowledged the impotence of the duo.

“We tried the Mortlock-Tuqiri idea in tough conditions,” Connolly said. “We probably think that Lote is a stop-gap in that area. To get the best out of Mortlock and Tuqiri, probably the right positions for them are 13 and 14.”

Connolly is said to be considering playing Western Force’s Scott Staniforth or Waratahs Morgan Turinui in the No 12 shirt in a bid to introduce an element of intelligence to a midfield which has been seriously lacking in this department.

Staniforth at 29 is not a long-term option at 12 though, while Turinui’s inconsistency and poor kicking game makes his selection a gamble.

Stephen Larkham will continue at flyhalf, should he recover from a head knock sustained at Lansdowne Road, while Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson are likely to start in the front row, at hooker and loose-head prop respectively.

Mark Chisholm will probably feel the sting of the selectors axe while David Lyons will be in with a big shout of wrestling the No 8 shirt away from Wycliff Palu.

Meanwhile Mortlock and George Smith where confirmed as the two of the three players who had returned late to their Rome hotel after their Test against Italy two weeks ago.

“I was one of the guys who came home late,” he said. “My initial intentions was to go out and look after the boys. Unfortunately I got home later than I planned to, and I was not intoxicated at all. I just got home late. Obviously, as a captain, it was a poor example, and it has been dealt with internally.

“This matter was a minor incident, dealt with internally and that’s how it should stay.”

Australia will announce their side later today.