Rugby World Cup 2011
Giteau faces RWC axe
Matt Giteau (Gallo)
Sydney - Matt Giteau's Rugby World Cup hopes, and perhaps even his nine-year test career, look to be hanging by a thread this week as Wallabies coach Robbie Deans ponders his options ahead of the announcement of his squad for rugby's showpiece event.
While Quade Cooper was further cementing his place as Australia's first-choice flyhalf in the 14-9 victory over the Springboks at the weekend, Giteau turned out in the losing cause for his club side Randwick in Sydney.
Although he played superbly and scored two tries, Giteau's star has fallen sufficiently that there would be no great surprise if he was to be omitted when Deans names his World Cup party on Thursday.
"We've got some tough calls to make this week and there is going to be some pain," Deans told reporters after the match in Durban.
Just two years ago, Giteau won the John Eales Medal as the outstanding Australian of the season and also earned a nomination for the IRB's world player of the year, the second time he had been included in the shortlist after 2004.
Giteau, who has scored 684 points in 92 tests since his debut in 2002, may have moved to inside centre when Cooper appeared on the test scene but it was this very versatility that made him a certainty for the World Cup squad in many eyes.
A disappointing 2011 Super rugby campaign with the ailing Brumbies, however, was compounded by a poor performance when he was offered the chance to claim the position as Cooper's back-up in the defeat to Samoa that opened Australia's season.
Dropped for the last three matches amid rumours of a rift with Deans, Giteau returned to club rugby and watched while others were able to stake their claims for squad spots in the Tri-Nations.
Pat McCabe has impressed at inside centre in the last four tests and scored Australia's only try in South Africa on Saturday, while full back Kurtley Beale and winger James O'Connor, both of whom can play at flyhalf, are clearly integral to Deans's plans.
Ironically, though, it is another player who turned out in Sydney club rugby at the weekend that could end up denying Giteau his ticket to New Zealand.
Berrick Barnes, who offers similar versatility to Giteau and can also play at fullback, took a break from rugby in June after suffering a series of concussions but on Saturday continued his comeback with 26 points for Sydney University.
Deans is characteristically keeping his thoughts to himself over his selection dilemmas and, aware that injuries in a World Cup season can make a discard one week indispensible the next, is not burning any bridges.
"For those unlucky enough to miss out, the wheel turns," he added. "There will be opportunities. There will be injuries. You just hope those who do miss out hold on to that prospect that they could get a call-up and end up playing in a key game."