Have you heard about the garbo born in Auckland, raised in Sydney who moved to Melbourne and got his start in Brisbane that’s about to get picked for Australia?
This hooker has been pimping himself out big time to get noticed. But after about a dozen Super Rugby games for the Queensland Reds, Brandon Paenga-Amosa should be rewarded with a Wallabies debut against Ireland next Saturday.
The candidates for the No.2 jersey are all very raw but Michael Cheika has been shaping his World Cup squad for the last few years and there were few surprises in the core of the 32-strong squad named during the week.
There weren’t any stunning dumpings amongst those that Cheika has been pushing into the international arena. Taqele Naiyaravoro and Kane Douglas missed out mainly because they are heading overseas soon.
Lopeti Timani and Henry Speight were two omissions that might have raised some eyebrows, but the back-row and back three are well-stocked and competitive.
So who can be locked in as starters for the Suncorp Stadium clash against the Six Nations champions?
Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Hooper, Pocock, Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau – there’s nine that are as certain as a Conor Murray box kick from anywhere inside the Irish 40m.
The front-row admittedly is a bit contentious, but Sio has been solid and Kepu is still a classy and reliable all-rounder.
Allan Alaalatoa hasn’t done enough for the Brumbies to shift Kepu and even as many times as Taniela Tupou’s powerhouse run against the Hurricanes was replayed, it wasn’t enough to override his shortcomings as a formidable Test-level scrummager.
Rory Arnold’s shoulder-charge suspension will ensure he’s back for the second Test in Melbourne where he’ll come together again with Adam Coleman. The Rebels skipper seems to have marked time this season, possibly because he’s got few predators snapping at his heels for his Wallabies jersey.
In the meantime, Rob Simmons deserves another start as he’s been going well for the Tahs, and also because Izack Rodda – as eye-catching as he is physically for a 21-year-old – has too many mistakes in him for a Test start.
Some might be sceptical of having two opensides – Michael Hooper and David Pocock – in the same back-row, but it’s ludicrous to not have both playing close to 80 minutes.
So there’s little doubt that the two most vexing selections are for the No.2 and No.6 jerseys.
Lukhan Tui has played less than three hours of rugby for the Reds this season due to suspension and knee surgery. He only came back into Brisbane club rugby last weekend and missed a spot in the match-day 23 for Queensland’s clash with the Waratahs on Saturday.
Nonetheless, he’s worth a start at blindside flanker partly because the pack needs a damaging ball-runner. At almost two metres tall, he’s another target in the lineout.
Caleb Timu – like Rodda – needs more time in Super Rugby. And like Jack Dempsey against the All Blacks last year, Tui is eager to turn up the energy and aggression.
Cheika might only get 50 minutes out of him given he’s light on for a run, and that might turn out to be a favourable split with his Reds teammate Timu coming on for the last half an hour.
Jack Dempsey is one that should push hard for a start at blindside flanker when he’s fit again. He was savage in the Bledisloe win last year and it was a pity that as he was building into some bruising form, he couldn’t get more time with Hooper and Pocock in the Wallabies back-row on the northern hemisphere tour at the end of last year. His Waratahs return can’t come quick enough with the Rugby Championship looming.
Ned Hanigan will miss the opening Irish Test but as it stands, he lacks the mobility and speed to challenge as a No.6 if Tui and Timu continue to bloom at the Reds under Brad Thorn, Dempsey is fit again and Pete Samu is released by NZRU and brought back home from the Crusaders.
Paenga-Amosa should get the gig at hooker. Cheika noted his match-up against Springboks beast Malcolm Marx when the Reds played the Lions proved his quality.
It’s a commendable philosophy – show you can duel with the benchmark in your position and you bank plenty of Wallabies points.
Paenga-Amosa is well-travelled and well-deserving. He reckons Gorden Tallis was his inspiration growing up. A bit of the Raging Bull mentality is what the Wallabies pack needs.
Jordan Uelese hasn’t had the best start to the year through injuries as well as being pushed aside at the Melbourne Rebels by Anaru Rangi.
He’s raw and feisty but hasn’t shown enough yet even with the door being thrown open due to the retirement of Stephen Moore and first-choice Tatafu Polota-Nau being rested.
With the spine of the Wallabies backline as good as set – Genia, Foley, Beale and Folau – that leaves three positions still up in the air: two wingers and an outside centre.
In the No.13 jersey, it’s hard to resist Samu Kerevi. In my mind, he almost feels like the Glenn Maxwell of Australian rugby – he’s as destructive as he is infuriating.
He can be breath-taking and then exasperating, sometimes within a few minutes. But there’s always a feeling that he should get another chance as he’s so close to becoming a Wallabies weapon. It’s not entirely rational given past blemishes, but why not another go, eh?
Tevita Kuridrani isn’t lighting it up for the Brumbies and Curtis Rona’s main attraction is he’s spent more time developing a combination with Beale at the Waratahs.
Who plays at outside centre might become Cheika’s biggest dilemma over the next half-a-dozen Tests. Reece Hodge? Is he best as a winger? Folau? Has plenty of merit but too late now?
That leaves two wingers to pick as starters. Marika Koroibete, even if he hasn’t been at his leg-pumping best, has shown how potent he can be. He’s made his fair share of poor defensive decisions but his ability to sniff out the tryline should get him over the line for a start. Expect him to be targeted with kicks by Murray and Johnny Sexton.
On the wing on the other side of the field, Hodge would be my choice. Having watched a bit of him at five-eighth for the Rebels last round, he’s not convincing as a playmaker. He was standing dead still at first receiver a few times. That’s why I reckon he’s best as a winger – or potentially an outside centre – with an excellent kicking game which will be crucial against the Irish.
I’d also give him the goal-kicking duties and let Foley focus on his running and general kicking game. Hodge has been striking them well for the Rebels and this far out from the World Cup, it’s not a bad time to judge whether Foley is more productive without the burden of goal-kicking. He can be lethal with his speed and guile and it may just free him up to offer more playmaking with Beale.
1. Scott Sio
2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Adam Coleman
5. Rob Simmons
6. Lukhan Tui
7. Michael Hooper (c)
8. David Pocock
9. Will Genia
10. Bernard Foley
11. Marika Koroibete
12. Kurtley Beale
13. Samu Kerevi
14. Reece Hodge
15. Israel Folau
Reserves: Tom Robertson, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Izack Rodda, Caleb Timu, Nick Phipps, Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty
Missing out: Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a (suspended), Rory Arnold (suspended), Ned Hanigan (injured), Joe Powell, Tevita Kuridrani, Curtis Rona, Jack Maddocks, Sefa Naivalu.