Will Cooper and Mitchell be back in time for Wallaby selection?
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Wallabies player Quade Cooper. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
The imminent return of frontline Wallabies Quade Cooper and Drew Mitchell from long-term injuries will dramatically change the selection landscape for the one-off Test against Scotland, and the three-Test series against Wales.
Cooper hasn’t played since the game against Wales at the Rugby World Cup last October when he suffered a serious ACL joint injury. Mitchell hasn’t played since the Rugby World Cup game against Russia, also in October, with a severe hamstring tear on top of an ankle injury.
Cooper will have just two Super Rugby games to press his claims – the Lions at home, the Brumbies away (and a bye) – before the Wallaby teams to meet Scotland in Newcastle and the first Test side to play Wales will be named.
Mitchell will have three games – Stormers and Cheetahs both away, and the Hurricanes at home.
The big question – will Cooper and Mitchell be match-fit enough to be considered?
If not, there’s a whole series of selection options.
Leave Scotland out of the equation for the moment as the best Wallaby side won’t play in back-to-back Tests just four days apart.
That being the case, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans’ biggest problem in naming his team to meet Wales at Suncorp on June 9 is not who to pick in the backline, but where, if Cooper and Mitchell aren’t considered.
On the proviso they are all fit for June 9 at Suncorp – Will Genia, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, and Pat McCabe will figure prominently at the selection table.
Not overlooking two outside-centres in Rob Horne and Andrew Smith, fly-half Ben Lucas, who along with winger Dom Shipperley have genuine claims.
Genia will obviously be half-back, and McCabe at inside-centre if he gets the nod. But the rest could be found anywhere in the backline, bar 9.
Beale at 10, or full-back, O’Connor at 10, inside-centre, or wing, Ashley-Cooper at outside-centre, wing, or full-back, Ioane at wing, or outside-centre, and Barnes at 10, or inside-centre.
By comparison, the pack is pretty settled with Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, skipper James Horwill, David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham, leaving just one lock spot and blindside flanker available.
All up, that makes the 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 15 jerseys – basically half the side – up for grabs with options.
The 4: Rob Simmons, Nathan Sharpe, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, and Scott Fardy.
The 6: Rocky Elsom, Beau Robinson, Matt Hodgson, David Dennis, and Fardy.
The 10: Beale, O’Connor, Barnes, and Lucas.
The 12: O’Connor, McCabe, Barnes, and Horne.
The 13: Ashley-Cooper, Ioane, Horne, and Smith.
And the 15: Beale, O’Connor, and Ashley-Cooper.
Realistically, leaving Cooper and Mitchell out of contention for the first Test against Wales, the Suncorp side could look like this:
15 – Ashley-Cooper
14 – Shipperley
13 – Ioane
12 – Barnes
11 – O’Connor
10 – Beale
9 – Genia
8 – Higginbotham
7 – Pocock
6 – Hodgson
5 – Horwill
4 – Simmons
3 – Alexander
2 – Moore
1 – Robinson
The major selection would be Ioane at 13, where he’s closer to the action, will make the breaks, and be the perfect feeder for finishers O’Connor and Shipperley, with Ashley-Cooper chiming in from behind.
It will be a vastly different line-up if Cooper and Mitchell are both match-fit and raring to go.
Cooper to 10, Beale from 10 to 15, Ashley-Cooper from 15 to 13, Ioane from 13 to 14, Mitchell to 11, O’Connor from 11 to 12, with Barnes and Shipperley to miss out.
No matter where you look, it won’t be easy. The permutations seem endless.