As the time fast approaches for Michael Cheika to select his Wallaby 31 for the World Cup, let’s discuss a realistic squad based on Cheika’s comments, style and selection history.
Many Roarers believe Cheika will select Waratahs players over those from other Australian teams. Firstly, I am certain Cheika will pick who he thinks will best fit his style, regardless of which team they play for.
There is however a danger that Cheika will select a Waratahs’ player over another simply because he is more familiar with them. This is entirely understandable and simply human nature.
I would strongly suggest to him that, should it be a 50/50 call, he should select the non-Waratah player!
A front row of James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu is the obvious selection, with a backup of Scott Sio, James Hanson and Josh Holmes. Cheika has spoken highly of the Reds’ scrum, despite their poor season, and this has largely been due to their front row.
Tatafu Polota-Nau is an obvious third hooker due to his experience, should he remain injury free.
It’s pretty clear to me that Cheika really wants Will Skelton in the team, and to be fair Skelton has played well this year. This means the other lock needs to be a lineout guru, and there needs to be a further two lineout options in the run on side. So Rob Simmons, Carter and Jones make the list as locks.
In games where Skelton is in the run on side, we will need Scott Fardy at 6 and Scott Higginbotham at 8 to cover at lineout time. Palu’s experience will see him in the squad as the other primary ‘8′. The back up ‘6′ to Fardy might be covered by players who are not specialist ‘6s’, including McCalman.
Which leads us to the 7 debate. The debate brings way too much parochialism.
Firstly, both Mike Hooper and Dave Pocock will be in the 31-man squad. As for who starts in the crucial games, I think it is clear! Australian rugby fans always talk about how great their backs are. Well if they are that great they don’t need to add to this awesome capability with a forward playing a backs role!
And, if you want your magnificent backs to play with the ball, you need your forwards to win and control the ball. For these reasons Pocock is the one to start in the crucial games.
To jump to the second most important question, the ‘10′ debate. My reading of Cheika is that he wants a very creative 10, and the most creative ones currently playing in Australia are Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper. With these two in the squad any further back ups will probably be more conservative players who can also play other positions.
Which leads us to the number ‘12′. Perhaps in the future the Wallabies will have a big ‘12′, but I don’t see it at this World Cup as there is not enough time to prepare someone. The main candidates here are then Matt Toomua and James O’Connor.
The ‘13s’ in the squad should be Tevita Kurindrani, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne. With wingers Horne, O’Connor, Henry Speight and Ashley-Cooper.
So the 31 man squad as I see it (with positions covered):
1. Slipper 1/3
2. Moore 2
3. Kepu 3
4. Simmons 4/5
5. Skelton 4/5
6. Fardy 4/5/6
7. Pocock 7/6
8. Higginbotham 8/6
9. Genia 9
10. Cooper 10
11. JOC 11/14/15/12/10
12. Toomua 12/10
13. Kurindrani 13/11/14
14. Horne 14/11/13
15. Folau 15/11/14
16. Sio 1
17. Hanson 2
18. Holmes 3
19. Carter 4/5/6
20. Palu 8
21. Hooper 7
22. White 9
23. Ashley-Cooper 15/14/13/11
24. Foley 10
25. McCalman 8/6
26. Jones 4/5/6
27. Prop 1/3
28. Polota-Nau 2
29. CLL 10/12
30. Speight 11/14
31. Phipps 9
Don’t focus on the hypothetical starting 15. This is just an example of a team for a crucial match against a team with a strong forward pack. Also the positions covered by players are not in any specific order.
So this is the most balanced and capable squad I can come up with.