The Wallabies will kick off their 2015 with an inside back combination that was last used at Wallaby level against England at Twickenham in 2010.
Green and Gold Rugby can confirm that Michael Cheika, in his first test on home soil, has opted for Queenslanders Quade Cooper and Will Genia to start at Suncorp Stadium, usurping Waratah incumbents Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. Joining the Queensland combo will be the Toulon-based Matt Giteau, to start at inside-centre, in his first Wallaby cap since their heavy loss to Samoa at the start of the 2011 season.
In a boon for Wallaby fans, it is a 9-10-12 combination that comes with both history and success.
Remember the first Rugby Championship match of 2011 against the Boks at Suncorp Stadium? The Wallabies ran out 30-13 winners on the back of that combination and, in particular, a classy Giteau performance.
Better yet. Remember that amazing performance in Bloemfontein against the Boks again? The one where we had the four-try bonus point wrapped up after 25 minutes? When the Boks came back but Kurtley Beale kicked a monster after the siren for the victory? There they were again. Genia, Cooper and Giteau.
Better still that win over the All Blacks in Hong Kong, this time with James O’Connor kicking the winner. Well the boys were at it again there, particularly the same 9-10-12 combination that will lead us out this week against the Boks in Brisbane.
It is a combination few pundits could have foreseen being selected for the opening Wallaby test of the season come the start of the year given the rise of Phipps and Foley for both the Waratahs and national team. More so talk of selecting overseas players, such as Giteau, was more the domain of outspoken former Wallabies desperate for wins, than anyone within ARU HQ.
But times have changed and Cheika is passionate about success and will do all it takes to achieve it. The much discussed ‘Giteau-clause’ opened the way for the 92 cap veteran to possibly achieve two previously forgone career goals – 100 Wallaby caps and a Rugby World Cup victory.
As for the selection of the Reds halves over the Tahs halves, we will have to wait until next week to see if it is more than a devise to help build a home crowd, but the talk amongst the journos all week has been how sharp the two have looked at training sessions.
Elsewhere in the team, Cheika has opted to go with Scott Higginbotham at number 8 over Ben McCalman of the Force in the only other really contentious selection. Higginbotham will partner former Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy in a backrow balanced with brilliance in attack and a high work ethic across the park.
The tight five of Will Skelton, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper and captain Stephen Moore was to be expected. Similarly the outside backs of Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau won’t disappoint many impartial fans.
THE LEAD UP
Without the benefit of a ‘warm up’ test, the Wallabies will be entering the contest following a week long camp on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Whilst the All Blacks took on Samoa in Apia, Argentina played a French Barbarians team and the South Africans played something called a “World XV”, the Aussies opted for the holding camp approach.
It’s a somewhat understandable decision given a new coaching team and the introduction of a whole bunch of new players in Wallaby rookies (Rory Arnold & Taqele Naiyaravoro), long absent veterans (Greg Holmes), overseas based stars (Giteau and Mitchell) and Dean Mumm.
By all reports the training has been intense which is what would be expected under Cheika, Nathan Grey and Mario Ledesma. Combinations have been tried and journalists have been tricked as they strive to build some sort of hope amongst Wallaby fans this year.
South Africa’s preparation got a surprising boost when their lone Super Rugby hope, the Stormers, were knocked out of the finals in the first week. Their match against a “World XV” was seemingly little more than an opposed team run and, from reports, did not match the intensity as some of those Wallaby training sessions.
In saying that, nothing beats match conditioning and Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has at least been able to partially answer some questions he may have had leading into the Rugby Championship.
KEY MATCH UPS
So this is the future is it? Toulon team mates Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana are now likely to face off as opponents in a test match. It may happen in Europe all the time, but it’s a rarity in Australia. Whilst the two don’t oppose each other positionally, there is no doubt that will be both come across each other on the field regularly. Giteau’s kicking game will be important for Australia and will be out to test his Toulon team mate, whilst Habana works hard-off his wing and is likely to pop up in the 12 channel on occasions.
It’s old school to say it, but the battle of the Front Row is vital, as much for the RWC as it is for this game. The Boks have a fabulous front row, as good as any in the world at the moment. The Wallabies showed glimpses last year of gaining the respect they craved in this department, however much of the good work was undone towards the end of the northern tour, most notably against England. There is no doubting that Slipper, Moore and Kepu are our best combination and their ability to match it with the likes of the Boks, All Blacks, Poms and Welsh will go a long way in determining the success of this Wallaby season.
There are some absolutely brilliant fullbacks in World Rugby at the moment and in Israel Folau and Willie le Roux, we have two of the best on show this weekend. Both are attacking freaks capable of making the chasing defence look completely ineffectual. Folau’s form for the Tahs has been below the jaw dropping standard we’ve come to expect, but the man is class regardless. Le Roux, fresh off a hat trick against a “World XV” can also carve with the best of them. The mere presence of these two puts enhanced pressure on the opposition’s respective kickers and chasing game. Any slip up in these departments will be heavily punished.
Other than that pesky Super Rugby season getting in the way, Michael Cheiaka looks to have had the build up he was after for the Rugby Championship. His scheduling, his players, his coaching staff. His commitment to the cause is undeniable and I expect it to have instant results for this Wallaby team with a highly intense performance against South Africa on Saturday.
Wallabies by 18