The Wallabies: Dale’s Possibles V Cheika’s Probables

Cheika has culled his extended 40 man Wallabies squad down to 31, ahead of next Saturday's Rugby Championship opener. Photo sourced from: www.allrugbynews.com
Cheika has culled his extended 40 man Wallabies squad down to 31, ahead of next Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener.
Photo sourced from: http://www.allrugbynews.com
With Michael Cheika culling his extended squad from 40 to 31 today, a number of incumbent and experienced Wallabies have been left out of the squad, raising a few questions on selection.

This got me thinking. What is Cheika’s probable line up and who would I like to see lineup against the Springboks next Saturday (18th July) in The Rugby Championship opener.

The Rugby Championship trophy. Photo sourcesd from: www.sportsbanter.com.au/rugby-championship-2013-week-1-preview/
The Rugby Championship trophy.
Photo sourcesd from: http://www.sportsbanter.com.au/rugby-championship-2013-week-1-preview/
With big names like Nick Cummins, Nic White, Christian Leali’ifano, Dave Dennis and Wycliff Palu being culled, coupled with Henry Speight’s suspension, a number of positions are up for grabs.

Cheika will stop at nothing and no one to win this Rugby World Cup (RWC). Have the remaining incumbents done enough? Will the opening of selection to the Toulon expats (Drew Mitchell & Matt Giteau) don Wallaby gold again? Or have rookies Taqele Naiyaravoro and Rory Arnold done enough to earn a debut?

Lets take a look of who I would like to see in gold and who is likely to lineup for Australia against the Boks.

My Possibles:

The Front Row (1-3):
This is one place that i think it will be unlikely for much variety between the Possibles and Probables. With Wallabies stalwarts Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson left out of the initial 40 and the culling of Toby Smith, James Hanson and Tetera Faulkner, there are only four props left in the final 31.

Michael Cheika has named Stephen Moore as the Wallabies' captain. Photo sourced from: www.couriermail.com.au
Michael Cheika has named Stephen Moore as the Wallabies’ captain.
Photo sourced from: http://www.couriermail.com.au

My Picks:
1- James Slipper (63 tests), Queensland Red’s captain and incumbent loosehead is widely considered one of Australia’s best scrummagers. He brings a lot of experience to the front row.
2- Stephen Moore (92 tests), no doubt Australia’s best hooker, the Wallabies captain will no doubt be a starter for the green and gold.
3- Sekope Kepu (52 tests), NSW’s and Australia’s incumbent tighthead will be looking to claim 8 more caps throughout 2015, allowing him to continue to play for the Wallabies after leaving for Bordeaux after the RWC.

The Second Row (4 & 5):
This is a place that the Wallabies are lacking world class players and will struggle throughout the Rugby Championships and RWC. Do you select the out of form James Horwill and lose some grunt around the paddock or select Will Skelton and loose an adequate lineout jumper?

If Irish-based Kane Douglas manages to sign with the Reds and return home to Australia, he should definitely be considered as a starter, pushing Skelton to the bench.

Will Skelton's 135kg+ frame  will bring a much needed physicality  for the Wallabies. Photo sourced from: www.dailytelegraph.com.au
Will Skelton’s 135kg+ frame will bring a much needed physicality for the Wallabies.
Photo sourced from: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au

My Picks:
4- Rob Simmons (50 tests), wearing gold as a lineout technician, however he lacks mongrel and aggression around the field.
5- Will Skelton (8 tests), at 204cm, 148kgs he adds the go forward that is lost through Simmons, however he needs to improve as a lineout option.

The Back Row (6-8):
In one of Australia’s most hotly contested positions, ex-Wallaby’s captain David Pocock, returns to the international stage after a two year absence. His form suggests he is the best openside flanker in the world and there is no doubt his form around the breakdown demonstrates that he is a true game breaker on the world stage. In saying that, how do you leave Michael Hooper out of the squad? The Wallabies vice-captain has reinvented the openside role, adding a hard running dynamic, yet losing some dominance around the ruck and maul.

Who is likely to get the nod out of Australia's two stand out opensides; Hooper or Pocock? Photo sourced from: www.foxsports.com.au
Who is likely to get the nod out of Australia’s two stand out opensides; Hooper or Pocock?
Photo sourced from: http://www.foxsports.com.au
In my opinion Pocock is a game breaker, with a team under performing around him, he will win you a game. Hooper on the other hand will make you win by more, if the team around him is performing, there is no doubt he will add another layer to your attack and he is solid in defence. Yet I don’t believe he is a true game breaker, at least not to the extent of Pocock.

This presents Cheika with an option to emulate the Phil Waugh and George Smith combination, two dominant opensides, with one being shifted to blindside. In my opinion, Hooper plays more like a small blindside, as he is superior in attack and lacks the breakdown speed and strength of the 115kg Pocock.

Another important factor in the backrow is the lineout. With Skelton starting, who can better fill a lineout jumping role in the backrow; Scott Fardy, Scott Higginbotham or Ben McCalman? Hence, my selection for number 8 role will revolve around the men he will partner in the back row.

My Picks:
6- Michael Hooper (42 tests), in my opinion Hooper has revolutionised the number 7 jersey… by making it a lot more like a tradional 6. I know he is small for a blindside, yet how can you leave him out of the starting squad?
7- David Pocock (45 test), his ability and skills around the breakdown are unrivalled in world rugby.
8- Scott Higginbotham (31 tests), he gets the nod due to his lineout alone, he lacks the strength in the breakdown the McCalman possess, while no one can deny that he provides a strong attacking game, overtaking Owen Finegan as Super Rugby’s top try scoring forward.

The Halves (9 & 10):
Nic Phipps seems to have lost the edge that he possessed last year, after moving to the NSW Waratahs, while the Queensland Red’s halfback Will Genia has seemed to regain some of his dominant 2011 form. With Nick White being expelled from Cheika’s 31 man squad, the starting 9 jersey is up for grabs for Phipps or Genia.

Nick Phipps and Will Genia, stat comparison. Photo and stats sourced from www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/statscentre.cfm
Nick Phipps and Will Genia, stat comparison.
Photo and stats sourced from http://www.nzherald.co.nz
Now, i believe statistics are like bikinis, they reveal a lot, but not everything. Nonetheless, Genia ran almost fifty per cent more, gained almost twice the run metres, beat nearly three times the defenders, assisted over double the tries and kicked the ball 106 more times in play, whilst sharing similar defensive stats. Surely that count for something.

In the halves, combinations are a big factor, yet many naysayers will claim that Quade Cooper still lacks the maturity to hold down the Wallabies starting flyhalf jersey, yet many will say that Bernard Foley failed to impress throughout the 2015 season.

Honestly, I would love to see if the old 9, 10, 12 combination of Genia, Cooper and Giteau, has matured enough to dominate consistently on the international stage. In 2010, they were hot and cold. Unpredictability reined, as they edged the Springboks, toppled Wales, fell short against England, beat Italy and breezed past the French, all away from home. Five years on, the combination would be a lot more mature, yet still possess the unpredictability, something we may well need during the RWC. The puzzle pieces clearly haven’t been clicking in recent years.

Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper, stat comparison. Photo and stats sourced from www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/statscentre.cfm
Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper, stat comparison.
Photo and stats sourced from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/statscentre.cfm
My Picks:
9- Will Genia (58 tests), was clearly Australia’s best halfback in 2015 and he provides a lot of experience individually and in combination with the man outside him.
10- Quade Cooper (53 tests), he only played a handful of games in 2015 after his season was curtailed by injury, yet he still managed to display signs of magnificence. He gains selection for the Possibles’ number 10 jersey due to his combination with Genia, yet his notorious weakness in defence has become a strength for him in 2015. Foley has been the dominant flyhalf in Australia, yet errors have continually built up in his game throughout the season, culminating in him ‘dropping the ball’ (pun intended) during the Super Rugby semi-final against the Highlanders this season.

The Centres (12 & 13):
The tantalising Toulon twelve, Matt Giteau returned ‘home’ from exile in France, for a shot at the Wallabies RWC squad. If he travelled this far and Cheika doesn’t provide that opportunity now, then when? With a limited time until the RWC, there is no better time to trial combination then the present.

Ex-Wallabies' teammates Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau, now play alongside each other at Toulon. Photo sourced from: www.foxsports.com.au
Toulon teammates Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau, have returned home in order to vie for a Wallabies call up.
Photo sourced from: http://www.foxsports.com.au
Many people will argue that the pace of the French Top 14 is a slower paced game, yet the insight Giteau and Drew Mitchell can provide from European rugby will be invaluable.

Who should wear the number 13 jersey? There really are only two options, Tevita Kurindrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper (AAC) and with the lack of outside backs AAC should be a starting on the wing.

My Pick:
12- Matt Giteau (92 tests), he adds a class and unpredictability that the Wallabies have been searching for, not only that, he can cover 9, 10 and 12, which will allow the Wallabies to carry a 6/2 (forward/back) bench split, something we will need against the big northern hemisphere teams.
13- Tevita Kurindrani (20 tests), a hard running and dominant centre, he has become an integral part of the Wallabies offence since his debut against the All Blacks in 2013.

The Outside Backs (11, 14 & 15):
With Henry Speight under suspension, Nick Cummins dropped from the team and Rob Horne out of form, the usual Wallabies depth on the wings has diminished. Throw in the returning Drew Mitchell and prodigal son Taqele Naiyaravoro and the outside backs are set for a shake up.

Israel Folau has been a real powerhouse since making his shift to rugby union in 2013. Photo sourced from: www.theaustralian.com.au
Israel Folau has been a real powerhouse since making his shift to rugby union in 2013.
Photo sourced from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au
Who will wear the number 15? Who else but Israel Folau.. Silly question!

My Picks:
11- Adam Ashley-Cooper (104 tests), the Wallabies’ Mr Consistency is a no brainer for the squad. He can cover outside centre, winger or fullback and all at an international level.
14- Drew Mitchell (63 tests), similarly to Giteau, he provides insider knowledge and he has been on fire in France. Tomane is on form, however Mitchell provides a better kicking game and can cover a number of positions.
15- Isreal Folau (29 tests), in 2015 he has continued to develop his offloading ability and his kicking in an attempt to add more depth to his game. A few more errors have crept into his game, however Folau will surely put this behind him and go from strength to strength through the Rugby Championships and the RWC.

Dale’s Possibles (1-23):
1- James Slipper
2- Stephen Moore
3- Sekope Kepu
4- Rob Simmons
5- Will Skelton
6- Michael Hooper
7- David Pocock
8- Scott Higginbotham
9- Will Genia
10- Quade Cooper
11- Adam Ashley-Cooper
12- Matt Giteau (halfback cover)
13- Tevita Kurindrani
14- Drew Mitchell
15- Israel Folau

16- Tatafu Polota-Nau
17- Greg Holmes
18- Scott Sio
19- James Horwill
20- Scott Fardy
21- Ben McCalman
22-Matt Toomua/ Kurtley Beale
23- Joe Tomane

The fact that Giteau, Mitchell and AAC can cover multiple positions in the backline, an extra forward can be carried on the bench. This starting squad boasts 802 test caps in the starting squad, providing a unique mix of unpredictability and experience.

Cheika’s Probables:

The Front Row (1-3):

Slipper, Moore and Kepu are likely to continue their front row combination for the Wallabies. Photo sourced from: www.smh.com.au
Slipper, Moore and Kepu are likely to continue their front row combination for the Wallabies.
Photo sourced from: http://www.smh.com.au

I can’t see Cheika meddling with a good thing here. The combinations are tried and tested and they are the three best experienced and best performing front rowers in his squad.

His Potential Picks:
1- James Slipper (63 tests)
2- Stephen Moore (92 tests)
3- Sekope Kepu (52 tests)

The Second Row (4 & 5):
I see Cheika sticking with experience in the second row, providing two lineout jumpers and using Skelton as a supersup.

His Potential Picks:
4- Rob Simmons (50 tests)
5- James Horwill (58 tests)

Cheika is set to decide between Higginotham and McCalman for the Wallabies' number 8 jersey. Photo sourced from: www.foxsports.com.au
Cheika is set to decide between Higginotham and McCalman for the Wallabies’ number 8 jersey.
Photo sourced from: http://www.foxsports.com.au

The Back Row (6-8):
With so much class and players to choose from, it is hard to predict which way Cheika will proceed with his back row selections. Pocock has been a standout and i’m not convinced that Hoopers selection at vice-captain secures him a starting spot.

I know Hooper playing at blindside is a long shot, but i just don’t see how either flanker could be left out of the starting squad.

His Potential Picks:
6- Michael Hooper (42 tests)
7- David Pocock (45 tests)
8- Ben McCalman (38 tests)

The Halves (9 & 10):
Cheika is a man who selects on form, which means he should technically select Genia and Foley, however i don’t see that happening.

His Potential Picks:
9- Nick Phipps (28 tests)
7- Bernard Foley (18 tests)

The Centres (12 & 13):

Toomua and Kurindrani may pair up in the centres. Photo sourced from: www.zimbio.com
Toomua and Kurindrani may pair up in the centres.
Photo sourced from: http://www.zimbio.com

I can’t see Giteau starting for Cheika straight off the bat, or potentially even all year, leaving him likely to fill a spot on the bench due to his versatility.

Matt Toomua also doesn’t only offer a second ball player, but a dominant defender, something invaluable in international rugby.

His Potential Picks:
12- Matt Toomua (21 tests)
13- Tevita Kurindrani (20 tests)

The Outside Backs (11, 14 & 15):
I think Cheika is most likely to carry Mitchell as a bench player, at least to begin with, providing either Tomane or the inexperienced Naiyaravoro a run. That being said, Tomane brings more to the table in defence and for that reason, I predict Cheika will have him the rub of the green.

His Potential Picks:
11- Joe Tomane (14 tests)
14- Adam Ashley-Cooper (104 tests)
15- Israel Folau (29 tests)

Cheika’s Probables (1-23):
1- James Slipper
2- Stephen Moore
3- Sekope Kepu
4- Rob Simmons
5- James Horwill
6- Michael Hooper
7- David Pocock
8- Ben McCalman
9- Nick Phipps
10- Bernard Foley
11- Joe Tomane
12- Matt Toomua
13- Tevita Kurindrani
14- Adam Ashley-Cooper
15- Israel Folau

16- Tatafu Polota-Nau
17- Greg Holmes
18- Scott Sio
19- Will Skelton
20- Scott Higginbotham
21- Will Genia
22- Matt Giteau
23- Drew Mitchell/ Taqele Naiyaravoro

This squad boasts 674 test caps, 128 caps less then my Possibles.

With so many options available to Michael Cheika, this year may prove to be the hardest year of selections in recent memories. No matter who he selects, the man knows what he is doing and has proved it on a number of occasions.

11221212
Michael Cheika has some tough selection decisions ahead of him, with arguably to most selection options in a number of years. Photo sourced from: http://www.smh.com.au

His list of achievements as a coach include coaching Leinster to a Celtic League trophy in 2007/08 and their first ever Heineken Cup championship in 2009. He then took the reigns of Stade Francais, coaching them to two European Challenge Cup runner-ups. More recently he coached the New South Waratahs to their first ever Super Rugby title in 2014.

The road to the 2015 Webb Ellis Cup (Rugby World Cup) isn’t an easy one, but if there is anyone who can guide the Wallabies to raise the trophy for the first time since 1999.

Who would you select if you were in Cheika’s position?

Written by Nelson Dale

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