Former Wallabies fullback Chris Latham believes coach Ewen McKenzie will be well rewarded by keeping the faith in under-fire novice Jesse Mogg for Saturday night’s return Bledisloe Cup battle.
As exciting as the prospect of Israel Folau being shifted to No.15 is, Latham says big-kicking, long-striding Mogg has the ability to develop into a long-term Test fullback, and expects him to show his true colours against the All Blacks in Wellington.
The Brumbies custodian endured a forgettable run-on Test debut in last weekend’s 47-29 loss in Sydney, highlighted by a poor missed tackle for a second-half try to Conrad Smith.
There’s been fervent calls for McKenzie to move Folau from the right wing to the fullback position for more attacking opportunities after barely touching the ball in his Bledisloe debut.
But the Wallabies coach has indicated he’ll keep his backline intact, and make just one change to his starting 15, with Brumbies lock Scott Fardy set to replace injured Hugh McMeniman (shoulder) at blindside flanker when he names his team on Thursday.
On flying into Wellington on Wednesday McKenzie backed his incumbents – also including rookie five-eighth Matt Toomua – to stand up and deliver at Westpac Stadium.
“They are all up to it,” he said. “We picked (Toomua) in the first place.
“I don’t really pick people or get rid of people on one game.”
That would be applauded by Latham, an attacking marvel of 78 Tests over a decade, who took a long time to settle in the No.15 jersey after a rocky five-year apprenticeship.
“I rate Jesse Mogg quite highly,” Latham said on Wednesday. “He’s got a lot of potential there.
“You need the backing and the confidence of the coach (to perform).
“His first Test, if anything, he was just probably guilty of trying too hard.
“In that position of fullback, and I’ve been there myself, if you make mistakes they are generally exposed and seen a lot more.
“I think it would be a bit harsh to not pick him this week.”
While Latham dismissed the option of switching James O’Connor from the left wing, he did admit Folau’s X-factor provided a luring alternative at the back.
But he also felt there was an element of risk in handing the code-hopper the No.15 jersey as he’s yet to still mastering the defensive and positional aspects of the position.
The All Blacks, even with a fourth-choice flyhalf, are experts at exposing minor weaknesses and there’s concerns Folau could be “found out” due to his lack of experience.
“It’s a tough choice,” said Latham, a member of the last Australian team to beat the All Blacks on NZ soil, way back in 2002 in Dunedin. “You’d be a silly man to question his ability to catch a high ball and kick.
“My hat goes off to him with his talent and what he’s shown thus far with the limited experience he has.”
Likely Wallabies starting team: Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, James O’Connor, Matt Toomua, Will Genia; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.