With just under three weeks until the Wallabies first Test of the year against France, I will attempt to deduce what Ewen McKenzie’s squad will look like.
With 32 spots up for grabs and a World Cup just over a year away, players will be hoping to get in early and impress Link in the hope of maintaining their spot on the plane to Heathrow.
The squad will include some of the usual suspects we have become accustomed to in gold. McKenzie will add some fresh new faces in the hope of securing some partnerships and combinations before the Rugby Championship in the coming months.
We will see much of same from last year in terms of front row stock. James Slipper, Ben Alexander, Scott Sio and Sekope Kepu will all be in the mix, but the final prop position is left open.
There are two schools of thought here: pick a proven player, or pick a fresh new face.
In the first category we have older heads in Benn Robinson, Greg Holmes and a newer Wallaby in Paddy Ryan. In the later category we have fresh-faced new kids on the (international) block Toby Smith, Keiran Longbottom and a smokey in Paul Alo Emile.
McKenzie will be looking to forge a new front row in hope of cementing some form and reliability for the upcoming Rugby Championship while having one eye on developing towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He will also have to decide whether to maintain playing James Slipper at loosehead or shift him back to tighthead in partnership with Scott Sio, who has been in good form throughout Super Rugby this year.
My picks: James Slipper, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander and Toby Smith will get the nod. Smith has enjoyed two Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs and been tested longer at the top level than the other newcomers.
The starting Moore is a shoo-in and has probably already had his jersey and Wallabies gear tailored, pressed and sitting in the cupboard.
That being said there is plenty of discussion around who should join him in the match 23, and indeed in the squad. The usual names are being thrown around added with a new face in a tough, hard-working toiler based in the west.
Up for selection are Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Saia Fainga’a, James Hansen and newcomer Nathan Charles. Being that Moore has the No. 2 already sewn up, the discussion is around who will get the No. 16 and who will be added to the squad.
Polota-Nau has been around the Wallabies set-up for some time, though form of late has seen him slide down the pecking order. One thing that may put the selectors at ease is they know what they can expect from him – hard running and even harder hitting!
James Hansen and Saia Fainga’a have been shuffled around more than the cards at a blackjack tabl, making it hard to make a case for either of them. Fainga’a brings hard hitting, strong running and good aggression at the breakdown but can be a penalty magnet. Hansen has a good overall balance to his game but lacks game time.
This brings me to Nathan Charles, the bolter. Charles has enjoyed a great season at the Force off the back of hard work and dedication to make it to the top. For this reason, he gets my nod.
My picks: Moore, Charles, and Tatafu Polota-Nau, the latter purely on experience.
Now to one of the most contested positions in the squad. With wallaby stalwarts Rob Simmons and James Horwill in the middle of a rubbish season for the Reds, these positions have become hotly contested by plenty of new comers.
The other players putting their hands up are Luke Jones, Cadeyn Neville, Sam Carter, Kane Douglas, Hugh Pyle, Sam Wykes, Will Skelton, Adam Coleman and Mr Fix-it, Scott Fardy.
McKenzie will look for a combination of experience and youth. Horwill and Simmons will both be in the squad, and with Kane Douglas and Hugh Pyle going offshore this season it sees three positions wide open.
My picks: Horwill, Simmons, Jones, Skelton, Coleman.
This hotly contested position seems to have been shored up with injuries to Wallabies fetchers David Pocock and Liam Gill. Michael Hooper has two hands on the No. 7 jersey this year, with the experienced Matt Hodgson keeping him honest from a not so distant position.
No. 8 seems to cause a little bit of conversation between rugby followers. Cliff Palu is damaging at 8 and brings a mountain of go-forward to any team he is part of, but will he stay fit enough for the Wallabies to rely on his power. Other candidates for this position include Scott Higginbotham and Ben McCalman from the west.
Blindside flanker should go to Scott Fardy, a man who seems to share Richie McCaw’s ability at the breakdown but without the subtlety. Discussion will come down to tactics employed by McKenzie, and who possibly who Link plays at 5 and 8. Angus Cottrell, Colby Fainga’a and young gun bolter Sean McMahon are also putting their hands up.
My picks: Michael Hooper, Cliff Palu, Scott Fardy starting, with Hodgson, McCalman and Cottrell in the squad.
That’s the forwards done and 19 of the 32 picked, on to the backs and halves.
Usual suspects Will Genia and Nic White are both putting their hand up and fighting for a starting berth. The form of former Wallabies Luke Burgess and Nick Phipps gives the selectors some discussion on the last halfback spot.
Burgess injuring himself in Saturday night’s game against the Reds at Suncorp has probably made the decision a lot easier for the selectors.
My picks: Will Genia, Nic White and Nick Phipps
A hot topic between rugby followers and couch dwellers over the past few days, with incumbent fly-half and Wallabies vice-captain Quade Cooper suffering a sidelining shoulder injury.
This makes room for the Waratahs’ Bernard Foley and Brumbies Matt Toomua to slog it out for the No. 10 jersey. Add to this selection group former Wallabies fly-half and Waratahs second-five Kurtley Beale, and McKenzie has a larger headache to overcome in the coming days.
I prefer Toomua at 12, and enjoyed watching him grow in that position on the Northern Hemisphere tour last year.
My picks: Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale.
I’m not going to even begin to pick the combination that will hit the field in the Wallabies first XV on June 7. Pat McCabe makes my utility selection group and Adam Ashley-Cooper will be picked on the wing being that he played a large part of the international calender there last year.
My picks: Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Kyle Godwin.
This position has been up and down all year, with no certainties other than the Honey Badger, Nick Cummins. Players putting their hand up include Jesse Mogg, Rod Davies, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne and Tom English.
My picks: Nick Cummins and Adam-Ashley Cooper, with Rob Horne, Jesse Mogg and Tom English missing out.
Short and sweet – Israel ‘gifted’ Folau. The man has talent by the bucket load and is one of the best pure athletes I have seen in some time.
Pat McCabe and Christian Lealiifano are victims of their own flexibility.
Both can cover several positions and will add some depth and comfort to Ewen Mckenzie’s squad for the June Test against France.