When Michael Cheika named his extended Wallaby squad of 40 for the Rugby Championship, he gave himself plenty of room to move.
Surprisingly, he left George Smith, Liam Gill, Luke Jones, Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, Nic Stirzaker, James O’Connor, and Nick Cummins out of the squad.
So my Wallaby line-up from the Cheika squad is:
1. Scott Sio will be proudly wearing the coveted No. 1 jersey for a long time.
2. Stephen Moore (c) to be given back the captaincy he lost through a serious knee injury last season after just five minutes at the helm.
3. Sekope Kepu played some of his best rugby late in the Super Rugby. He will be a tower of strength up front.
4. Will Skelton has become a rugby giant, not only in size. He will make his presence felt for the rest of the year.
5. Scott Fardy would be better suited on the blindside of the scrum, but with the standard of locks selected, and no Luke Jones, the Wallabies will be better served with the tireless Fardy at lock.
6. Michael Hooper out of position, but not out of mind. Sure there will be strong arguments about switching sides of the scrum, but think of the havoc he can cause in tandem with Pocock.
7. David Pocock is back to being the best forward in Australia after two seasons lost through knee reconstructions. Probably should be captain again, but the last time he had the job it told on his effectiveness, instead of just saying ‘follow me’.
8. Wycliff Palu played some of his best rugby in ages towards the end of the Super Rugby tournament. It’s vital he continues on that track for both the Rugby Championship and the Rugby World Cup. For mine, George Smith plays as No. 8 when he wins selection after the first two Rugby Championship games.
9. Will Genia (vc) will relish playing behind a pack going forward now that his confidence is back. By far the best halfback in the country when he’s right.
10. Matt Giteau is a selection with a question mark. Any sign of the old Giteau crap and he must be punted immediately. But if he’s on song, he can be a major pivotal plus in both the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup, with the added string to his bow as goal-kicker.
11. Joe Tomane goes from strength to strength. I admire his aggression, his speed, his ability to beat a man, and his white line fever to back up his defence.
12. Samu Kerevi is the bolter in my team, but I expect big things from this exciting and explosive 21-year-old who stands at 185 centimetres, and weighs 104 kilograms.
13. Tevita Kuridrani has made the 13 jersey his own, and in tandem with Kerevi expect them to cut Israel Folau loose to create his own special brand of havoc.
14. Henry Speight is under suspension, but he’s still in the squad so eligible to be named in my side. The thought of three Fijians setting up Tongan Folau is mouth-watering,
15. Israel Folau is simply the best. Full stop.
16. James Hanson deserves the back-up hooking job, where he will never let the Wallabies down in general play, or feeding the lineout.
17. James Slipper is a tireless propping wonder who can play either side of the scrum.
18. Rob Simmons gets a bench job because Luke Jones wasn’t picked, yet he can be a forceful element when he puts his mind to it.
19. Ben McCalman can fill the No. 6 and No. 8 jobs, or even at lock.
20. Scott Higginbotham is in the same boat, but the only reason why he’s not in the starting line-up is his hot head. The Walabies can’t afford to have him cop a yellow card, or worse.
21. Nick Phipps would not be on the bench if Nic Stirzaker had been selected.
22. Christian Lealiifano to be one of the back-up goal-kickers, who could fill the 10 and 12 berths if required.
23. Kurtley Beale is another goal-kicker who can fill the 12 or 15 berths, and is still the x-factor in the squad, who sets up Folau better than anyone else.