It was a hotly-contested position in 2016 and the spot at the back of the scrum will be intriguing again this season.
Where do the contenders rank right now?
1. Richard Hardwick
Richard Hardwick has bolted into Wallabies contention with a breakout Super Rugby season and coach Michael Cheika revealed last month that the 22-year-old was among a group on the verge of crossing over from development player to real Test side contender. With injuries and suspensions plaguing the number eight contenders and David Pocock on a sabbatical, Hardwick’s stocks have skyrocketed.
2. Lopeti Timani
Had it not been for a brain fade against the Brumbies, Lopeti Timani would surely be a fair way in front in this race. Earmarked to succeed David Pocock during the latter’s sabbatical after a super Test season in 2016, Timani has shot himself in the foot. Timani will be back in action from round 13 onwards, giving him time to re-assert himself as the first-choice eight.
3. Scott Higginbotham
Scott Higginbotham hasn’t missed a beat since returning to Super Rugby this season. While his defence can be patchy, it’s his dynamism in attack that gives him a real X-factor. The Waratahs were wary of the big man ahead of their derby and they were right to be. Three tries from nine games show his finishing abilities as well.
4. Sean McMahon
Sean McMahon is yet to play this season but the Rebels are hoping to have their skipper back in round 12, a date that should give him just enough time to try and work his way back up the pecking order. He was given first crack at the number eight with David Pocock injured and is highly-rated by Cheika, with his potential shown in the World Cup and in his Test cameos. If he’s fit, he’s surely in contention.
5. Michael Wells
Michael Wells has wrestled the starting Waratahs number eight jersey of incumbent Jed Holloway this season, as the latter works his way back to full fitness. Has played a consistent role in the Waratahs’ lineout this season and his work rate has helped them plenty. Would be a rank outside to be picked.
6. Jed Holloway
Jed Holloway has failed to reach the 2016 heights that saw him clinch a hat-trick off the bench, after an injury-affected off-season. Long tagged as Wycliff Palu’s potential club replacement, Holloway has shown his ability to break the line this year but it’s not enough to propel him into Wallabies calculations.
David Pocock - sabbatical