Mortlock: My Wallabies backline

Super Rugby
Stirling Mortlock
by Stirling Mortlock

The Wallabies team for June will be all about balance, no more so than in the backline.

It was a masterstroke by Michael Cheika to bring a few guys back into the fold for the World Cup, including Matt Giteau.

Obviously he performed well but his value was just as much in the leadership perspective and strategic knowledge he brought to the game. Last year was unique, though - in a World Cup year players are going to bend over backwards to be involved.

Now, the focus of the Wallabies and Michael Cheika has to be on creating a balance between developing players and winning trophies in the here and now.

Probably my pick of the backline possibilities now would be Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Samu Kerevi at inside centre, Tevita Kuridrani  at outside centre, Rob Horne and Joe Tomane or, if Tomane's injured, Tom English on the wings and Israel Folau at fullback.

Focusing on that midfield selection, though, Samu Kerevi is the player who stands out most to me.

It was really unlucky for him to break his hand just when he was really stringing some outstanding matches together. More than that, though, it’s his enthusiasm and energy that I think would be the biggest addition to the Test side.

He looks like a real team contributor, he’s always back slapping the forwards when they do something well and firing his teammates up. He gets his hands on the ball a huge number of times in a game and, more importantly, he makes an impact with almost every touch.

He’s had 120 carries this year for 628 metres, including beating 35 defenders, offloading 12 times and making 15 clean breaks.

In terms of metres, only Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty sit in front of him and they’ve played every match so far, while Kerevi has missed two.

Kurtley Beale was one of the Wallabies' best in 2015. Photo: Getty ImagesBefore Kurtley’s injury I would have put Kerevi into that 13 spot but with the number 12 open too, I don’t see why we can’t have two big powerhouses in the midfield, particularly for this England series. I think that Samu has more subtleties to his game to cope with playing 12 and also defensively he’s been rock solid.

It’s a move that Eddie Jones would look at and say, “Woah, how do we nullify those two threats?” Possibly, he might look combat this by selecting a big midfield himself. Either way it puts a lot of doubt into the situation and that is exactly where you want the opposition to be.

I understand the need for balance in the backline, but I think Kuridrani and Kerevi could just be such a threatening combination in that midfield against England.

Stirling Mortlock represented the Wallabies 80 times between 2000-2009. Photo: Getty Images

The drawback in having two of those big hard-running centres is that you don’t have the two playmakers in the inside backs, so you need to rely on someone like Israel Folau to do that a bit more from fullback.

Christian Lealiifano is another option to put in 12 and he would surely deserve it.

He was almost the form player across the Australian sides in 2012 before a broken ankle robbed him of a chance to push for a Test debut, then when it did come a year later, he was knocked out in the opening minute.

Christian Lealiifano is an option for the Wallabies at 12. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyRob Horne has been in the conversation but he is just so much more damaging on the wing, defensively rock solid and that’s a characteristic that really sticks out more when he’s on the edges.

I don’t think Karmichael Hunt would be a good fit - he’s still finding his feet at the Reds and throwing him into the centres at Test level would be an altogether different challenge.

Hunt would likely be a stop-gap solution for 12, though, and this series is a chance to start preparing for the longer term, effectively the start of a new World Cup cycle.

There are a few young guys in contention - Reece Hodge and Kyle Godwin have shown promise at provincial level this season and in the past.

I don’t think Hodge is quite ready for Test footy just yet, though he’s clearly got talent , and Godwin’s injuries have probably hindered his chances.

They would surely be in Test calculations further down the track, though right now I would love to see a Kerevi - Kuridrani Wallaby midfield.

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