Force puts Giteau on shopping list

By Bret Harris
March 1, 2006

WESTERN FORCE has joined the race to sign Wallabies utility back Matt Giteau for next year's Super 14 series.

Giteau, who has played all his Super rugby with the Brumbies since making his debut in 2003, is the hottest property on the open market.

The NSW Waratahs have expressed interest in Giteau, and it is understood incoming Queensland Reds coach Eddie Jones has approached him.

Giteau's name is high on the Force's shopping list for next season.

Force CEO Peter O'Meara will fly to Canberra next Wednesday to meet Giteau, who would be able to ignite the expansion team's struggling backline at five-eighth or inside centre.

"He's in the frame," O'Meara said.

There was no doubt every Australian team was going to chase Giteau, but the Brumbies are annoyed the issue has become public so early in the season.

While the Brumbies would dearly love to announce Giteau was staying in Canberra, he is not expected to make a decision until the end of the Super 14 series.

The Brumbies have announced the re-signing of promising backrower Julian Salvi for two more seasons. A former Australian Schoolboys captain, Salvi joined the Brumbies as an 18-year-old from high school in 2004.

Salvi, 20, made his Super 12 debut for the Brumbies against the Chiefs towards the end of last season, but he has assumed a greater role in the squad this year.
"Julian is a fantastic young player with a long future as a professional rugby player, hopefully, at the Brumbies," coach Laurie Fisher said.

Despite Fisher's high opinion of Salvi, he is set to be dropped from the Brumbies' 22-man squad for the match with the Cats in Canberra on Friday night.

Fisher went with five forwards, including Salvi, and two backs on the Brumbies reserves bench in their 15-all draw with the Stormers in Cape Town last Saturday. But the coach will revert to a more traditional four-three split on the bench for the Cats with reserve halfback Patrick Phibbs rejoining the 22-man squad.

Stirling Mortlock completed the majority of the Brumbies' training session yesterday. He strained a medial ligament in his knee against the Stormers and, while the signs are encouraging, he will be further assessed at training tomorrow.

Queensland Reds inside centre Lloyd Johansson will start for the first time this season when the Reds play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday, while former Test centre Steve Kefu will join the bench.

The hard-running Johansson has only got the starting position, which many believe is overdue, because of an injury to young five-eighth Berrick Barnes. Barnes and second-rower Mark Connors, who both have bruised ribs, were ruled out yesterday.

It's been a long road back to Super rugby action for Kefu, who sustained a painful wrist injury during the Reds' tour to Argentina late last year. Kefu, who has five Test caps but struggled to break into coach Jeff Miller's top squad last year, broke his wrist in the tour's early stages but defied the pain barrier and continued playing.

It was only upon his return to Australia that he discovered the extent of the damage.

He had three pins inserted into his wrist - they were removed in January - and returned to action on Friday for Queensland A's match against Brumbies Runners.

Kefu said the chance to pull on a Wallabies jersey, no matter how slim, was the "only reason why I stick around".

"Just to try and get my hands on one again. I've just got to avoid injuries and get more games into me," Kefu said.

Elton Flatley will move from inside centre to five-eighth to replace Barnes, while Hugh McMeniman and Cameron Treloar will pack down in the second-row. Ole Avei comes into the Reds 22-man squad.

The Force attempted to recruit Johansson last year but he had another season to run on his contract with the Reds.

And, with the problems the Force is having in the midfield this year, Johansson is sure to be targeted by the West Australians again.

"If Lloyd is available, he would be on our short-list," O'Meara said. "He would be in the frame but there are a whole range of players in that position."

Additional reporting: AAP

The Australian