A couple of weeks ago, after the Brumbies had beaten the Queensland Reds to kick off the 2020 Super Rugby season on the last weekend in January, I found myself in my usual post-match mode.
With the Ireland Test series just around the corner, excitement is building.
As the build up to the 2019 World Cup begins, here’s a look at the major winners and losers from Michael Cheika’s squad.
Hanigan has not played any rugby since a Round 12 knee injury against the Crusaders ruled him out, leading many to think that he would be left out of this squad.
It is well known that Cheika has taken a liking to Hanigan since his early days with the Waratahs, the youngster providing extra cover with his ability to play both lock and Mo.6. It seems this versatility has got him over the line for this series.
The next question for Cheika is whether he trusts Hanigan in the matchday 23, having not played any football for the past month.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Caleb Timu coming into this Super Rugby season, after a stellar NRC for Queensland Country, and he has certainly lived up to it.
With 91 carries for 381 metres, along with a very high tackle rate, in an inconsistent Reds side, Timu was a must.
Timu’s early-season form has likely guaranteed involvement in this series and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fill a starting backrow spot.
Starting the year on the wing, Rona struggled to make any real impact and was even relegated to the bench for a few games.
Daryl Gibson then decided to move him to outside centre.
His first few games were uneventful, but the last few weeks Rona’s combination with Kurtley Beale has clicked and his late push was enough to be selected.
While I doubt he will start come June 9, Rona offers a quality reserve utility role and his ability to cover multiple positions could come in handy later in the series.
Definitely the bolter of the squad, Banks has shown all his talents this year for the Brumbies. He presents a danger every time he carries the ball and possesses both pace and footwork.
Banks’ standout game against the Bulls last week, where he played a crucial role, proved enough for him to have his name read out.
While he may struggle to crack the starting side against the Irish, this selection is definitely a positive one for the future.
He’s been tearing it up across the ditch this year and Cheika made public his desire to pick him, but the stars did not align.
There is news that Samu could still be selected and, given the light backrow chosen (only five players), Cheika is obviously still hopeful that New Zealand will oblige in a release.
A question that arises from the Samu situation is, how were these players let go in the first place? Guys like Peter Samu and Michael Alaalatoa were deemed not good enough, with Cheika opting for old timers such as Benn Robinson and Stephen Hoiles.
But that is a topic for another day and I hope that Samu can bolster the backrow stocks leading up to the World Cup.
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Despite playing his best rugby since bursting on to the scene in 2014, Naiyaravoro has been left out. We can only assume that this is due to his decision to leave the country at the end of the season. And fair enough, in the build up to the World Cup, Cheika has gone for continuity.
Unfortunately, Naiyaravoro will be the latest name to go on the list of one or two Test Wallabies or All Blacks ‘stolen’ from their Pacific homelands.
Jake Gordon and Michael Ruru
I have grouped these two together as I see them as being in the same position.
Unfortunately, the logjam behind Will Genia means they missed out, despite both playing quality matches this year.
Either of these two could slot into the squad without much fuss and were hard done by as are both better than Joe Powell. Playing significantly less game time may have counted against them.
While Bernard Foley has the Wallaby No.10 jersey all sown up, Stewart may have been holding out hope that Cheika would pick him as a backup. This was not the case, with Reece Hodge looking the obvious back-up. It has since been announced that Stewart will join the squad as a training group member, which indicates Cheika is looking at him.
Overall, I wouldn’t be too disappointed if I was Stewart, as the training will provide invaluable experience.