Tomorrow may decide if Foley or Hodge will wear the 10 against England

David Lord Columnist

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    Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has had to make some hard decisions during his 42-Test tenure, none more so than who will line up at fly-half against England at Twickenham next weekend.

    Both Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge have claims on the pivot position.

    The game against England will be the most vital of the four-game spring tour with the Eddie Jones-coached side having won all four internationals against Cheika – 39-28, 23-7, and 44-40 Down Under, plus 37-21 at Twickenham.

    Tomorrow morning Foley will be back on duty in the ten jersey after missing both the Barbarians and Japan games.

    Against Japan, Hodge played his first Wallaby international in the 10, and turned in a blinder with Nick Phipps inside him.

    Phipps had one of his best games in gold, but he will never be as good as Will Genia, who will return to duty after missing Japan with an ankle injury.

    If Hodge can be mighty impressive outside Phipps, it stands to reason he will be even better outside Genia with quicker and more accurate service.

    And there’s another bonus in Hodge’s favour – his monster goal-kicking.

    Not only did he land nine conversions from as many attempts all over the park against Japan, he cleared the crossbar, kicking it higher than the goal posts.

    And there are other bonuses in Hodge’s favour – he’s 23, Foley’s 28, and the Hodge physique is 191 centimetres and 94 kilograms compared to Foley’s smaller 182 centimetres and 80 kilos.

    Reece Hodge

    (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

    I have always believed that the most important game for the Wallabies is the very next one, and that’s Wales early tomorrow morning AEDT.

    But with Cheika it’s the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, and all his planning and selections have been to ensure the Wallabies improve and increase their depth in every position.

    And he’s delivered.

    In 2016 Cheika selected 13 new Wallabies – Rory Arnold, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Nick Frisby, Adam Coleman, Allan Alaalatoa, Reece Hodge, Tom Robinson, Lopeti Timani, Sefa Naivalu, Leroy Houston, Tolu Latu, and Kyle Godwin.

    This year it’s 12 debutants with Ned Hanigan, Karmichael Hunt, Richard Hardwick, Joe Powell, Eto Nabula, Jack Dempsey, Curtis Rona, Izack Rodda, Jordan Uelese, Marika Koroibete, Lukhan Tui and Matt Philip.

    Nine of them are in the Wallaby 23-man squad for Wales tomorrow – Kerevi, Coleman, Alaalatoa, Hodge, Robinson, Hanigan, Hunt, Koroibete, and Philip.

    The last named will be someone very special, as Cheika ups the ante in the size of his locks.

    Philip is only 23, a former Australian Schoolboy, and Australian under-20 rep, but he’s a big unit and made a big debut against Japan.

    He stands 199 centimetres and weights 117 kilograms, and against Wales he’ll be the bench support for Coleman at 204 centimetres and 122 kilos, with Rob Simmons’ 200 and 115.

    That’s a lot of lock clout as Wales will find out, and so will the Wallaby front row of Scott Sio, Tatafu Polota-Nau, and Sekope Kepu make their presence felt.

    The trio is going so well they are starting to be compared with the 1984 Grand Slam front row of Topo Rodrigues, Tommy Lawton, and Andy McIntyre, or the 1991 World Cup-winning Tony Daley, Phil Kearns, and Ewen McKenzie.

    Throw in number eight Sean McMahon’s powerhouse display against Japan, and the pack has improved out of sight and so has the scrum.

    And while up front wins good ball against Wales, Michael Cheika will be closely watching how Bernard Foley returns to the fray, with Reece Hodge out on the wing.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn’t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world’s great sporting spectacles

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