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Some of Michael Cheika's Bledisloe Cup selections don't make any sense

The Wallabies belong to all of Australian rugby. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)
Expert
12th August, 2018
111

The biggest question mark in the Wallabies Bledisloe Cup squad is Michel Hooper.

How can he be fit enough to take on the All Blacks when he hasn’t played a game of any description for seven weeks since he trudged off in the third Test against Ireland with a hamstring injury on June 23?

Hooper’s obviously passed a fitness test, but he can’t possibly be match fit enough to take on the best team in the world.

And the first of three Bledisloe Cup clashes is, without doubt, the most vital game of the series.

So it looms as another Pooper experiment where the best No.7 in the country, David Pocock, has to play No.8 to allow the second best No.7, whose match fitness will be questionable, to hold down the position.

That’s not the way to win the vital first-up encounter.

Nor is dropping Rory Arnold and Caleb Timu from the original 36-man squad.

Big Rory Arnold looking big.

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

The towering 208cm, 120kg Arnold was the perfect locking partner for 204cm, 122kg Adam Coleman to give the All Blacks some lineout curry.

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And Timu’s 190cm, 112kg frame would have been very handy at the back of the scrum.

But both have been punted, leaving huge key figure holes in the now 28-strong squad.

Having said that, Michael Cheika must be praised for keeping the exciting Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks in the squad, with both capable of filling the fullback and wing positions.

And both are genuinely quick from standing starts with safe hands, deceptive footwork, and outstanding defence.

Before the cut, and keeping match fitness in mind, my 23-man squad for the first Bledisloe on Saturday would have looked like this:

(1) – Scott Sio
(2) – Tatafu Polota-Nau
(3) – Sekope Kepu
(4) – Rory Arnold
(5) – Adam Coleman
(6) – Ned Hanigan
(7) – David Pocock (c)
(8) – Caleb Timu
(9) – Will Genia
(10) – Bernard Foley
(11) – Tom Banks
(12) – Kurtley Beale
(13) – Reece Hodge
(14) – Dane Haylett-Petty
(15) – Israel Folau

(16) – Brandon Paenga-Amosa
(17) – Allan Alaalatoa
(18) – Rob Simmons
(19) – Lukhan Tui
(20) – Michael Hooper
(21) – Nick Phipps
(22) – Matt Toomua
(23) – Jack Maddocks

Kurtley Beale, David Pocock and Bernard Foley

(AAP Image/David Moir)

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With Arnold and Timu out of the picture, and Hooper firmly back in it, the pack and bench will have forced changes, but not the backs.

(1) – Scott Sio
(2) – Tatafu Polota-Nau
(3) – Sekope Kepu
(4) – Rob Simmons
(5) – Adam Coleman
(6) – Ned Hanigan
(7) – Michael Hooper (c)
(8) – David Pocock
(9) – Will Genia
(10) – Bernard Foley
(11) – Tom Banks
(12) – Kurtley Beale
(13) – Reece Hodge
(14) – Dane Haylett-Petty
(15) – Israel Folau

(16) – Brandon Paenga-Amosa
(17) – Allan Alaalatoa
(18) – Tom Robertson
(19) – Izack Rodda
(20) – Lukhan Tui
(21) – Nick Phipps
(22) – Matt Toomua
(23) – Jack Maddocks

The second line-up is not as strong or as well-balanced as the first, but that’s what happens when key players are punted.

Hopefully the Wallabies get off to a cracking start to be on the front foot to end the Bledisloe drought since 2002.

The talent is there, but will only show if they cut loose.