The much anticipated opening Bledisloe Cup Test is just around the corner with the Wallabies selection battle really heating up. Rugby.com.au look at all the different backrow and wing options Michael Cheika has at his disposal.
The incumbent number seven has been a consistent Test performer since his debut in 2012. With more than 50 Tests to his name at just 24, Hooper is a leader within the Wallabies team, having been the youngest Wallabies captain and still a vice captain under Stephen Moore. Known for his work rate, Hooper is rated one of the best tacklers in the game and has speed to burn when given a chance. Not your traditional openside but poses a threat in attack and defence.
Michael Cheika has been forced to shift Pocock into a number 8 rather than leave one of Pocock or Hooper on the bench, birthing the ‘Pooper’. One of, if not the best pilferer in the game, Pocock’s defensive efforts are unrivalled. The Wallabies missed Pocock’s presence at the ruck for the final two games against England after fracturing his eye socket in game one, and will be eager to finish his 2016 in fine form before his rugby sabbatical in 2017.
The final piece of the Wallabies backrow, the lesser talked about Fardy is just as vital as Hooper and Pocock if the Wallabies want to win on Saturday. Down on form during the June Test series, Fardy is well known for his turnover ability and adds much needed height to the Wallabies line out. Hasn’t had the season he would’ve liked individually but generally solid in Tests.
Still only 21, McMahon has forced selection headache after selection headache on Cheika, with a scintillating Super Rugby season. McMahon provides versatility in the backrow, but it would be a hard sell to start him alongside Pocock and Hooper, leaving the Wallabies undersized in the lineouts.
Another workhorse that provides Cheika with consistency and grunt around the field. McCalman has hasn’t had much of an opportunity to impress at international level in the past year with an abundance of backrowers at Cheika’s disposal. Has been consistent for the Western Force and rarely has a misstep in Wallabies colours.
Timani is looking for his first Wallabies cap after a breakout year with the Melbourne Rebels at Super Rugby level. Originally a backrower, Rebels coach Tony McGahan has used Timani in the second row this season, but Cheika sees him as a damaging, hard hitting six or eight. Timani’s inclusion in the Wallabies squad adds depth and continues to put pressure on the incumbents to perform.
Similar to Timani, Mumm has been used in the backrow and at lock for the Wallabies in the past. In 2015, having returned from a three year stint in Eurpope, Mumm was used mainly from the bench under Cheika to cover multiple positions. Has had a mixed season and seems unlikely to feature in Saturday’s Bledisloe.
Ashley-Cooper is likely to come straight back into the Wallabies starting XV for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney. His 114 Tests of experience will be incredibly valuable in a Wallabies side that lacked exactly that in June. Strong in defence and has the ability to finish off attacking chains, something that will come in handy against the All Blacks.
It will be a race against the clock for Mitchell to make a Bledisloe return, working his way back from groin surgery in May. Mitchell only joined the main Wallabies group last week and it’s hard to see him slotting straight back into Test rugby. Both Mitchell and Ashley-Cooper started in the Rugby World Cup final, so expect them to feature heavily throughout the Rugby Championship, but Saturday’s Test might be too soon for Mitchell.
Only debuted for the Wallabies in June, but Haylett-Petty may have cemented his spot in the starting XV after impressing throughout the series. Haylett-Petty’s preferred position is fullback but with the likely scenario of Israel Folau remaining at 15 for the Wallabies and Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre, Haylett-Petty looks set to retain his position on the wing.
The incumbent left wing during the June series, Horne is facing stiff competition to remain in the starting team with the European Wallabies re-joining the squad. Cheika may look to use Horne off the bench as cover on the wing and in the centres. Horne’s defensive pressure is highly valued for the Wallabies, and we’ll more than likely see him in the 23-man team.