Wallaby coach Michael Cheika is one on the most switched-on blokes in rugby.
Nobody can turn his fashion company into a multi-million dollar business, speak fluent French, Italian, and Arabic, be the only rugby coach in history to mentor major tournament victories in both hemispheres – Leinster for the 2009 Heineken Cup, the Waratahs in the 2014 Super Rugby – and throw in reaching the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, if he’s a dork.
Fast forward and the Wallabies have never finished last in the Rugby Championship, and already have slipped to seventh in the world ranking, their worst ever position.
If the Pumas win on Sunday morning (AEST) by 16 or more points, the Wallabies will finish last, and be ranked eighth.
Even for inept Rugby Australia, that will be serious consideration time to terminate the contracts of Cheika, and his staff, a year out from the Rugby World Cup.
That’s why it’s so hard to understand why Cheika keeps selecting Wallabies out of form, and out of position, so often.
He’s playing a very dangerous game of Russian roulette, but keeps saying the pain is worth it in the long run.
If he’s punted, however, the pain hasn’t been worth a cent, with Wallaby fans voting with their feet through lack of interest.
Constantly losing does that.
Some sanity has returned for the all-important Puma clash with Bernard Foley back at 10 as Matt Toomua was never going to be a reliable goal-kicking option, and Kurtley Beale at 12, but there are still selections that rankle.
The ‘Pooper’ experiment has long run its race, the locks keep being rotated so there’s no stability, the hookers are a problem, where best to assign powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou, Ned Hanigan and Nick Phipps are still around, while the Israel Folau-Dane Haylett-Petty fullback fiasco is very current, and very critical.
The ‘Pooper’ experiment only surfaced because Michael Hooper can’t play anywhere else but seven, even though David Pocock is by far the better option.
Rob Simmons and Adam Coleman are the best lock options because Simmons is the senior, and better, lineout caller, leaving Izack Rodda and Rory Arnold on the outer.
The hooking problem surfaces with inconsistent lineout feeding, and there’s little between Folau Fainga’a, Tolu Latu, and Brandon Paenga-Amosa with Tatafu Polota-Nau out of the picture.
Taniela Tupou is not a starter, he’s far more effective off the bench when he can throw his massive 135 kgs around in the last telling 30-35 minutes when opponents are knackered.
What Cheika sees in Hanigan and Phipps defies description when there’s Angus Cottrell, and Jake Gordon, playing tourists.
Cottrell was a laydown misere to wear the six jumper when Lukhan Tui stayed at home.
Cottrell had consistently strong showings for the Rebels where he wore that jumper eight times in 14 starts in Super Rugby, while Gordon is sharp with accurate service and deserving of a crack among the elite, and should have been the Waratahs number one halfback all season.
The Folau-Haylett-Petty fiasco only surfaced when Folau was injured, and it should have been canned on Folau’s return.
Folau is the best in world rugby at the high ball, he’s the faster, more dangerous, and better footballer in general play, and the senior player.
There’s also no comparison when it comes to try-scoring ability.
I sincerely hope Michael Cheika’s squad wins for the sake of Australian rugby, and his own career.
I have my doubts.
But I have no doubts whatsoever that the alternative squad can not only get the job done, but break the Wallaby try-scoring drought.
Bernard Foley will do the rest.
(1) Scott Sio
(2) Brandon Paenga-Amosa
(3) Allan Alaalatoa
(4) Rob Simmons
(5) Adam Coleman
(6) Angus Cottrell
(7) David Pocock (c)
(8) Caleb Timu
(9) Will Genia
(10) Bernard Foley
(11) Marika Koroibete
(12) Kurtley Beale
(13) Reece Hodge
(14) Dane Haylett-Petty
(15) Israel Folau
(16) Folau Fainga’a
(17) Sekope Kepu
(18) Taniela Tupou
(19) Izack Rodda
(20) Michael Hooper
(21) Jake Gordon
(22) Matt Toomua
(23) Tom Banks