With the Wallaby squad set to be announced this week, it’s time for me to lay my cards on the table and pick the group of players I would like to see chosen for the England series.
I am going with a 29 man squad, which doesn’t leave much room for debutants and development players. I am generally erring on the side of putting faith in the players who got us to a World Cup final, and (spoiler alert) there is nothing radically left field here.
I am also assuming that foreign-based players will not return for this series.
So let’s get stuck in. The starters are in bold.
Scott Sio, Greg Holmes, James Slipper, Ben Alexander, Toby Smith
This is an easy call, until you get to that reserve tighthead slot. Toby Smith can play a bit of tighthead, but considering the scrum will be so crucial I’m not sure Cheika will risk him as the back-up to Greg Holmes. So we are left with a conundrum, and the only answer to me is Ben Alexander. No other Aussie tighthead is good enough (FYI Laurie Weeks is injured). So Benny A gets the nod, even though his best days are undoubtedly behind him.
Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Hanson
Many may have blocked it out of their memories, but TPN was really good in the World Cup Final. He is still a genuine Test class player, though he may only have a few seasons left in him. Andrew Ready is a bit unlucky, he’s a great prospect but James Hanson has been one of the Rebels most consistent performers and his top level experience gets him over the line in a photo finish.
Rob Simmons, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Will Skelton
This is one of those positions where we’ve got six or seven blokes all at a similar level. You could easily interchange Skelton and Coleman with Sam Carter, Luke Jones, Dean Mumm, Dave Dennis, Lopeti Timani and even Cadyrn Neville. But Skelton is finding form and he offers something very different to all of the other options, who are very similar in style. Coleman has a hard edge I like, and Rory Arnold is improving every week and has a really well-rounded game. Don’t be surprised to see Mumm get the nod here, though. His versatility is a big plus, and I was close to picking him despite indifferent form this year.
Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon
An easy call for me. Jed Holloway and Liam Gill are the two unlucky ones here, but the class of these five players is undisputed. McCalman is one of the most underrated players in Australian rugby, and I still remember the titanic effort he put in off the bench against Wales at the World Cup. This is going to be a physical, tight series, and to use an old phrase we are going to need an old dog for a hard road. You could throw an extra player in here for development’s sake, but I can’t see Cheika doing that.
Nick Phipps, Nick Frisby, Nick Stirzacker
The question mark is the status of Will Genia, who seems the one overseas player who may return. If he does, he comes onto the bench and we shed Stirzacker from the squad. The main choice here is to put Frisby ahead of Stirzacker, which has been made a lot easier by the Queenslander’s form over the last few weeks. I also like the thought of Frisby coming on against tired Pommie defences, as he has a lovely running game. And he’s only 23, which is surprising as it seems like he’s been around for ages.
Bernard Foley, Christian Lealiifano, Samu Kerevi
I am assuming Matt Toomua won’t be able to recover in time for this series. But they are the only three blokes we have for the 10-12 channel at the moment, so they get the nod. Kerevi may slot in somewhere, but for me he is on the bench with Bernie and Lilo taking the starting spots. Cheik may opt against the double playmaker option, but it served us well last year and I see no reason to move away from it.
Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Karmichael Hunt, Reece Hodge
Lots of decisions to be made here. Despite being a bit flat this season, Tevita Kuridrani keeps the 13 jumper and Israel Folau stays at fullback. Horne has one wing locked down, and DHP’s kicking game gets him over the line for the other slot (though Joe Tomane would be there if fit). There aren’t too many players left after that, but Karmichael Hunt’s big game experience and his versatility will see him nab the 23 jersey. We could have, at this point, stayed with a 28 man squad but we will need cover if a back goes down in the warm-up, so I’ve gone for new blood in the form of Hodge. There is a lot to like about him, and he gets in ahead of Mike Harris, Luke Morahan, Eto Nabuli and Taqele Naiyaravoro (who may be a surprise pick if he opts to come back to Australia, though it’s apparently unlikely).
So there it is. For the record, that means a match day 23 of:
Scott Sio, Stephen Moore ©, Greg Holmes, Rob Simmons, Rory Arnold, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne, Christian Lealiifano, Tevita Kuridrani, Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau.
Subs: James Slipper, Ben Alexander, Adam Coleman, Ben McCalman, Nick Frisby, Samu Kerevi, Karmichael Hunt.
Am I on the right track? Whose name would you like to hear read out when the squad is announced?