Western Force are hoping to close a deal with the Stormers’ former Springboks five-eighth Peter Grant in an attempt to fight off a Brumbies bid for Wallabies sensation James O’Connor.
Wayne Smith writes for The Australian that barely a week ago, Force’s plans to retain O’Connor hinged on the opportunity the club intended to offer him next season to succeed Matt Giteau in the playmaking role at No.10.
But it quickly became apparent the 18-year-old has thought deeply about his rugby and realises that, like Giteau before him, he needs time to develop as a footballer before stepping into the five-eighth position.
Indeed, if Force insisted on switching O’Connor to five-eighth in 2010, it could have the effect of driving him to the Brumbies, whose chief executive, Andrew Fagan, is anxious to secure him as a replacement for Mark Gerrard at full-back.
But if Force are able to secure Grant as their marquee player, replacing Wales-bound prop Ben Castle, it would mean O’Connor would not be burdened with the responsibility of running the game and could concentrate on refining his skills at full-back or inside centre.
“James might not be the 10,” Force chief executive Greg Harris said. “We’ve been in conversation with Grant for a few weeks and he is fairly interested in coming across. His parents are now living in Perth and he wants to become an Australian.”
The 24-year-old Stormers playmaker might be able to become an Australian but he cannot ever become a Wallabies player after having played five Tests for the Springboks.
By contrast, Force’s other key targeted overseas recruit, Hurricanes tighthead Tim Fairbrother, has an Australian passport and a move to Perth next year would give him plenty of time to establish himself before Wallabies coach Robbie Deans picks his 2011 World Cup squad.
“Fairbrother has not committed yet but all the indications are that he wants to come to us,” said Harris, who also has been chasing New South Wales Test veteran Matt Dunning to bolster his front row.
If Force are able to secure even one of them, it will make the task of luring NSW and Wallabies hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau to Perth a lot easier, although Waratahs coach Chris Hickey has made it clear he regards Polota-Nau’s retention as a high priority.
Harris confirmed he also has opened negotiations with a third Waratahs Wallabies player, half-back Brett Sheehan, suggesting to him his chances of challenging Luke Burgess for the Australian No.9 jersey would be a whole lot better as a starting player for Force rather than as Burgess’s understudy coming off the bench.
That raises the question of what role Force have in mind for current half-back Josh Valentine, who comes off contract at the end of this season, with Harris admitting he did not know what Valentine’s intentions are.
While Force’s 2009 season is hanging by a thread, a win over the Queensland Reds at Subiaco Oval on Friday night would keep it alive.
Indeed, the same could be said of the Reds, who also are on 12 points. And as Queensland coach Phil Mooney observed, there is such a logjam of teams in the middle of the Super 14 table that a single win is all it takes to catapult even a lowly-ranked side back into contention.
Mooney has his share of selection problems to work through but at least he has been spared a tricky choice at loosehead after former Test frontrower Greg Holmes was all but ruled out of contention on Monday because of a lingering neck and shoulder problem.
A few weeks ago, that would have triggered a crisis but so well has Ben Daley performed in his two outings for the Reds that Holmes might have struggled to make the 22 even if he had been fully fit.
And while Test winger Peter Hynes gives himself no chance of being fit to play just eight days after a piece of floating bone was surgically removed from his knee, Mooney still has not given up hope.
“Pump him up with a dose of positivity and away he goes,” Mooney said.
Meanwhile, Australia has rolled out the big guns for a two-day meeting in London to discuss which, if any, of the experimental law variations are worth retaining. Deans and ARU chief executive and high performance manager David Nucifora will be pressing hard for the retention of most of the ELVs, in the face of mounting opposition from the Six Nations countries, Argentina and Canada.
About 70 key rugby identities are attending the meeting and while no binding decisions will be taken there, the conference will largely determine which of the ELVs will be passed by the IRB Council in May.Tweet