With less than 24 hours until the Wallabies selectors unveil their 31-man World Cup Squad, I’ve given some consideration towards what the selection panel of Michael Cheika, Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor may actually come up with.
Considering the constraints of a 31-man squad, I can’t see the selectors selecting any more than five props in the party. The five listed pretty much select themselves. Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Robertson and Jermain Ainsley will likely miss out. Robertson, who is not long back from an ACL injury may consider himself unlucky and I suggest he will be in the shadow squad and will be the first called up if there is a serious injury to any of the initial props selected.
Tolo Latu (NSW Waratahs); Folau Fainga’a (ACT Brumbies); Jordan Uelese (Melbourne Rebels).
All World Cup squads should carry three specialist hookers. I can see the Wallabies departing for Japan with Latu, Fainga’a and Uelese, who are all still competing for the starting 2 jersey. It will be interesting to see if there is a preferred starter or whether selections will be based upon opponents. I tend to think if the Wallabies do start with both Hooper and Pocock in the back row, the selectors may opt for Fainga’a or Uelese. However, if they chose to go with only one of Hooper or Pocock, Latu – who is quite effective over the ball – may come into starting contention.
I’m tipping that Will Skelton will be on the plane. It’s no secret Rugby Australia have been courting the former Waratah to return for this campaign. The ‘Big Man’ is back in Sydney which fuels further speculation he and his management will somehow agree terms with Rugby Australia, thus allowing Wallabies Coach Michael Cheika to unleash ‘Skelton 2.0’ on those who await the Wallabies. He certainly would add absolute ‘X-factor’ to the Wallabies. It would be a daunting task having Skelton charging at you with Samu Kerevi on one side and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto the other in support. If he is included, I would think veteran Rob Simmons would make way for him.
Similar to the front row I think these names select themselves. Isa Naisarani is warming to international rugby nicely and will only improve with more match time. I expect the selectors will persist with Salakaia-Loto, who needs to improve his body height in contact more consistently. He can be found wanting for speed on the fringes in defence which will be a concern. When he decides to go forward with intent, however, he is a particularly difficult customer to stop. Luke Jones should travel as it does not appear Jack Dempsey, Ned Hannigan or Pete Samu have done enough to convince the selectors otherwise.
The return of Nic White to Australian rugby has been in many ways ‘wind-in-the-sails for the good ship Wallabies’. Both he and veteran Will Genia will be on the plane and I anticipate so too will Joe Powell, who will edge out Nick Phipps, Jake Gordon and bolter Tate McDermott. Those backups should all train with the shadow squad. Similar to the hooking role, Australia appears to have some genuine depth in the 9 jersey but, like hookers, only three should travel.
Christian Lealiifano (ACT Brumbies); Bernard Foley (NSW Waratahs).
Akin to the return of Nic White, Christian Lealiifano is the best story in Australian rugby for some time. He clearly is the premier fly-half in the land and will be accompanied by Bernard Foley, who will no doubt be doing everything possible to get back into the staring 23. I can’t see a place for Quade Cooper on the plane and it would appear Matt To’omua may be the next in line if required. That being said, Cooper may yet be Australia’s ‘Steven Donald’. Who knows?
Samu Kerevi (QLD Reds); James O’Connor (QLD Reds); Tevita Kuridrani (ACT Brumbies); Jordan Petaia (QLD Reds); Matt To’omua (Melbourne Rebels); Reece Hodge (Melbourne Rebels); Marika Koroibete (Melbourne Rebels); Dane Haylett-Petty (Melbourne Rebels); Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs).
I suspect young Queensland Red Jordan Petaia will be the ‘bolter’ in the squad. Struck down by a fractured foot early in this year’s Super Rugby campaign, Petaia has been back playing rugby for about a month now, and I tend to think the selectors will choose him over a Jack Maddocks, Tom Banks or Henry Speight. A fit Petaia is precisely what the Wallabies backline has been looking for in the 13 jersey. He is strong, aggressive, runs at space and operates with prowess in confined spaces. Maddocks appears to have fallen out of favour, as has Speight and Banks.
Now for the waiting…
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