Discussion of a Wallabies squad would usually be focused on who didn’t make the cut more so than who did, but coach Michael Cheika appears to have flipped that narrative with the inclusion of gun rookie Jordan Petaia.
Petaia has wowed coaches and fans who have tracked his development over the past 18 months and will play at the World Cup despite never having worn the Wallaby jersey before.
Cheika will be hoping that Petaia’s body can hold up to the rigours of such a tight schedule. The 19-year-old was set to become the youngest ever Wallaby last year before straining a hamstring in Italy, and then missed almost all of the 2019 Super Rugby season after suffering a foot injury in the Reds’ second game.
At the other end of the age spectrum is 35-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will now go to a fourth World Cup, and Will Genia, who will add to his 104 Test caps in Japan alongside Nic White, who will likely get the starting job ahead of the veteran in the halves.
White in particular could hardly have timed his return to form better. He was one of the Wallabies’ best during the Rugby Championship and will relish the opportunity to play in Japan.
In the forward pack there were few surprises as Cheika stuck strong with the majority of the pack that played the Rugby Championship.
In the front row veteran Sekope Kepu won out ahead of Waratah teammate Tom Robertson, and Cheika opted for one less halfback in favour of one more hooker option – possibly because Cheika still remains unable to rely on Tolu Latu to get through several games in a row without a suspension.
Rory Arnold and Izack Rodda will start in the second row with Adam Coleman pushing them for selection. Rob Simmons will act as cover and continue to accumulate Test caps off the bench in the pool matches.
Across the back row David Pocock returns as expected, and Pete Samu continues to be shunned as expected. Isi Naisarani will likely start the tournament as the Wallabies’ starting No.8 after shining during the Rugby Championship.
Jack Dempsey also provides a reliable option for Cheika if he needs to rotate his loose forwards and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto can probably feel the most fortunate to be included, after a mediocre Rugby Championship performance.
In the backs Cheika continues to show a preference for Christian Lealiifano ahead of Bernard Foley at the fly-half position, though Lealiifano’s wayward goal kicking in Auckland – that sucked a lot of momentum away from the Wallabies early in the game – won’t have filled anyone with confidence.
If Australia is to go deep in Japan they will not be able to leave points on the park often. Australia really require a goal kicker they can rely on in the big moments.
Lealiifano, To’omua, O’Connor, Hodge and Beale have all been trusted with the kicking tee in the past for Australia but none of them have kicked with enough consistency to hold on to the job.
James O’Connor’s redemption appears complete after he was named in the squad among a cluster of possible center combinations.
Having impressed at outside center it is likely that O’Connor will start outside Samu Kerevi with Matt Toomua, Petaia and Ashley-Cooper providing cover.
Marika Koribete is the only out-and-out winger in the squad meaning that the other wing position will have to filled by one of either Reece Hodge or Dane Haylett-Petty with Kurtley Beale at fullback.
Extended squad members Joe Powell, Tom Banks, Liam Wright, Luke Jones and Tatafu Polota-Nau will remain with the team as they train in Sydney this week ahead of their final World Cup warm up match on Saturday night against Samoa at Westbank Stadium before heading to Japan to prepare for their opening pool match against Fiji on September 21.
Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga’a, Michael Hooper (c), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese.
Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi (vc), Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia*, Matt Toomua, Nic White.