Cheika hints at Wallabies June picks

International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has defended incumbent openside flanker Michael Hooper and Australia’s talent depth ahead of the June Test series.

Hooper has been criticised recently after a slow start to the season but Cheika said the Waratahs captain was still at the front of the queue for the number seven jersey.

“He played the last game there so I suppose he's the box seat at the moment,” he said.

“It’s a little bit disappointing for me to hear more the language that’s being used as opposed to the idea.Michael Hooper has been under fire for his recent form. Photo: Getty Images

“A guy like Hooper, he doesn’t merit that type of attention. He’s doing his job for the Waratahs very, very well.

“He’s taken on a leadership role as well this year within an organisation that’s changed a lot, there’s a lot of new personnel.

“I don't need to go on the record about what i think about Michael Hooper, I think it’ll be seen in my selections.”

Outside of the openside spot, Cheika has a number of debates to settle before the Wallabies come into camp in the last week of May.

Will Genia could be in the frame for June Tests. Photo: Getty ImagesScrumhalf Will Genia is the only overseas-based Wallaby who has expressed a public desire to come back to Australia for the June Tests, after a knee injury ended his Top 14 year.

Cheika said he would be unlikely to consider anyone who has played a full European season for June Tests, but players he visited on a recent trip overseas would be on the Wallabies radar.

Waratahs pair Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale are two of those who could find themselves in a different spot come June.

Folau has found more of the ball at outside centre for the Waratahs in recent weeks and Cheika said there was no reason he couldn’t carve out a career swapping between 13 and 15.

“There's no doubt with the ball in his hand, it will just be a natural thing for him to take on the defence,” he said.

“Defensively he’s got his head around it pretty well to be honest.

"He’d be finding a different level of fitness required too to play in that position because you’re on the go the whole time.

"That's a really good development from him, it’s something that will help him in his football whether he plays 13 going forward or whether he goes back to fullback.  

"He wouldn't be the first player that could play both, especially those positions.
“I’ll just let it roll for a while and see what happens and when we come together decide how she’s going to pan out."

Cheika opted for Beale off the bench in last season’s Rugby World Cup and that is still an option but the Wallabies coach said his form at 12 for the Waratahs warranted a starting consideration.

Giteau was Australia’s starting 12 in England last year with matt Toomua notionally his understudy, though Toomua saw little game time through the tournament.

“He's done well at the Waratahs - he’s played at 10, he’s played at 12, he’s really been a player who every time he’s touched a ball he’s ignited something.

“As it is with Kurtley, there’s always something going on and it’s going to be an interesting competition for that position not just in June but all the way through.

“I would say he’s right up there competing for it because he’s had a good season so far.

In-form winger Joe Tomane was on Tuesday night ruled out for up to eight weeks but Cheika was optimistic that the Brumbies speedster would be back for the June series.

 

Cheika singled out a number of players outside the 31-man 2015 Rugby World Cup squad when discussing Wallabies depth, including injured Rebels winger Dom Shipperley and Reds duo Samu Kerevi and Karmichael Hunt.

“I know there’s been a lot of conjecture around depth of teams but for me I've got all the players in Australia to pick from. That’s Australian rugby right there,” he said.

“I’ve seen that perhaps after a slower start to the season Samu Kerevi’s really starting to get into a bit of a groove, I think Karmichael Hunt’s had a good year so far.

“There’s opportunities for other players that are in the squad this year in the outside backs who haven’t had a chance - (Force winger Luke) Morahan. (Dane) Haylett-Petty - and I won’t be scared to give guys a game but they have to show that they deserve that game.

“I’m not just going to give them a game because, ‘oh well, let’s try someone new’.”

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