With the June Tests coming up sooner than we realise, and the World Cup just around the corner next year, here are five questsions Rugby Australia should be asking Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Q1: Michael who are our best halves combinations and their backups for the June Tests and leading into Rugby World Cup 2019?
We have the Kurtley Beale-Bernard Foley combination at the Tahs with Jake Gordon and Nick Phipps to return. Are they our halves combination? Are the halves sewn up by the Tahs in Beale-Foley, Phipps-Gordon with Will Genia unable to be denied due to his form?
Seriously, does James Tuttle’s goal kicking or Joe Powell’s passing game get a look in? Or does Phipps automatically walk back into the squad to resume his spot with Genia?
Do Matt Toomua and Nic White even warrant some effort to bring them back from overseas? Or is that contravening some Cheika squad law?
Cheiks, please explain why these guys have no value to the Wallabies anymore and why they are not worth being vigorously pursued as others have been, considering the chronic lack of quality depth and experience in our halves?
And as part of the puzzle Cheiks, can you also explain why we have Quade Cooper being paid $600k to play Brisbane club rugby, while the Brumbies have an ineligible and ordinary New Zealand flyhalf in Wharenui Hawera as their first choice, and the Rebels have the limited Jack Debreczini filling in with no specific backup option?
Is this the best use of player resources in Australian rugby? What are you actually doing with the franchises to develop depth at No. 10 (if anything) and get Cooper back into Super rugby Michael?
Q2: Who is going to be our backrow in June to take on Ireland and with a view to Rugby World Cup ’19?
I know you are a Michael Hooper fan and he is your captain. Is that still valid with David Pocock back to imperious form and his undeniable leadership qualities? Are we going to repeat the ‘Pooper’, which was exposed by the All Blacks in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final?
Will you consider a genuine ball running No.8, a physical No.6 and a hard on the ball No.7? Please don’t say Ned Hanigan is the answer when we have Caleb Timu, Scott Higginbotham, Isi Naisarani, Jack Dempsey, Lukhan Tui,
Jed Holloway and hopefully Robert Valetini are viable 6 and 8 men in the Rugby World Cup mix for 2019.
I am safely assuming, like the other Brumby rejects in Joe Tomane, Toomua and White, that there are no plans to bring back Scott Fardy, who can jump, ruck, carry and lead as an experienced forward for the Rugby World Cup.
Why did Sean McMahon take off to Japan? Are we working on getting him back next year?
And don’t even get me started on the next best and well-rounded Aussie No.7, with a leadership ability and a very good rugby brain tearing up rucks for fun, in Lyon – Liam Gill. You know, the young guy who won back-to-back Pilecki Medals for Queensland before realising he had buckley’s of getting a run with the Wallabies and took off to France?
And by the way, nice job spotting Alex Mafi’s talent as a backrower at the Tahs and letting Eddie Jones pinch him for Japan. He’d be kind of handy for the Wallabies right now.
Q3: Which position is Izzy actually going to play?
Israel Folau spent most of his very successful rugby league career as a right winger. When he crossed over to union, Robbie Deans flagged him as a right winger, not a fullback, and Folau had a breakout season against the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
Deans, like him or not, knew a thing or two about playing fullback and the balance needed in the back three.
A lot is at stake and, regardless of Izzy’s religious views, we need to optimise his potential in the Wallabies backline and try to retain him as a major drawcard for the code. He is one of our few genuine world-class players.
Now Daryl Gibson has gone full circle and Folau is back on the right wing. Move Izzy to the wing and please get someone who can actually kick into the back three and our notoriously poor exits may improve!
Q4: What is our tactical approach?
Michael, I get your overwhelming focus on your own team and the ball-in-hand Randwick Way, but we don’t just play with ourselves. Rugby involves an opposition, so try as we might to ignore it, their actions, strengths, and weaknesses are essential considerations as part of the battle.
Analysing an opposition is part and parcel of developing a game plan and adapting to specific circumstances. And if that game plan is not working, how about developing some on-field leaders who are smart enough to see that and adjust?
To be frank Cheiks, your comments about kicking and gameplans concern me, and so does the Wallabies’ poor exit stats and general predictability. Did you watch the Tahs’ games this season with Folau soaring on the wing and the Beale-Foley combo launching attacking kicks on that flank?
That is the kind of variety and skill supporters want to see from the Wallabies.
Q5: What are we doing to innovate in defence?
Michael, I know you and Nathan Grey have a bro thing going on, but once upon a time, at the turn of the last century, the Wallabies innovated and we reaped the benefits. The All Blacks are now the innovators, even using Australian personnel from the NRL and the AFL to stay ahead of the pack.
For all your love of league, how about using their defensive expertise to innovate to our advantage? Traditionally, in Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere rugby competitions, the best defensive innovators have come from the other code.
So instead of having jolly, media-driven love-ins with Sydney league teams running around with the Wallabies at training, how about getting their best coaching brains in so as to work out how we take the next step in rugby’s defensive evolution?
Whatever you decide, Rugby Australia will agree to, so you have the power. If you’re not interested, at least get Rod Kafer onto it as he seems to have a reasonable rugby IQ.
That way, when you and Nathan shoot through after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, we may have some fresh ideas ready to go.
What do you think Roarers? No doubt I have missed something. Go ahead and voice your questions – who knows, those Cheikaphiles in the Sydney rugby media may actually ask a hard question or two of him sometime this season.
They probably won’t, but at least we can kick the can down the road.