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By The Roar
Fan article originally published on The Roar's sports opinion website. Submit your own rugby article to The Roar for potential publication on Rugby.com.au.
Here are my early picks for the Wallabies team that should take on the Lions in June.
It’s 74 days until the first Lions Test in June, and a lot can change between now and then.
Just ask Brumbies fans how they felt on Saturday night compared to 16th March when they’d just finished flogging the Sharks; it’s only 24 days since then.
I do think there is enough water under the bridge this year to begin looking at how a Wallabies team could take shape with a view to winning a once in a lifetime series.
Obviously picking a Wallabies side is different to the purely form-based XV I put together a while ago.
This team needs a mix of form, experience, explosiveness and toughness required at the Test match level.
For the sake of tension, here is the rationale before I put the team on paper.
I don’t want the Wallabies to be muscled out of the contest and forced to live of scraps. In picking that tight-five I’ve tried to build a platform for victory.
Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu are all large and get through their defensive work.
People point out that Holmes isn’t great at running the ball. I think the selection of props for their running ability is slightly misguided.
Holmes will help anchor a scrum and doesn’t shirk defensive work either.
Kepu can run the ball about as well as any prop and doesn’t fare badly when it comes time to pack.
Moore is Australia’s best hooker by far.
For the second row part of the tight five I have picked Australia’s best and most in-form players.
James Horwill is the best lock we have and his absence in the Reds line-up earlier this year highlighted his underrated on-field leadership.
Since he has come back the Reds have been much more purposeful, and he works over the referee a little as well.
Hugh McMeniman has been the form Australian second row forward this year.
He has been very strong with the ball in hand and reliable enough in the lineout. He’s a sizeable bloke to and should be able to back up his front row in the scrums, and he is an experienced rugby player now.
His injury was a worry but it sounds like he’s going to be back a few weeks before the Lions 25-man squad is named.
The loose forwards are going to be a very interesting contest; I’ve tried to differentiate ours from the hold-up-ball-carriers and try-to-smash-the-opposition strengths the Lions will probably deploy.
That’s why I’ve gone for Liam Gill at blindside.
The Lions are going to have to plan and organise themselves to counteract his specific rucking and stealing ability more than the roundly talented Michael Hooper.
Gill is also a good lineout option.
At the blindside I think Scott Higginbotham is out of form and not suited to the style of rugby that will be played in the series.
I’ve gone for Ben Mowen to reward his Super Rugby form, to make use of his large frame in contact and because I see him as a diesel engine likely to last the 80.
Mowen also jumps well enough to be a threat there too.
Wycliffe Palu, when fit, is still the best number 8 in Australia so he has to be there now he’s back on the field.
He can be a lineout threat too. That’s four options.
Now we move on to the back line.
Will Genia is the first person picked. I need to devote a full article to his play sometime.
At fly half I’ve gone with Quade Cooper for now.
This year hasn’t been Cooper’s most dazzling or highlight fuelled, but I think he’s shown a deliberate attempt to manage the game more. That is a smart move on his behalf.
His play against the Highlanders was the best he’s played all year, especially in the first half.
He was putting people through holes and playing around on the blind side which caused the defence fits. His partnership with Genia is important also.
Our centre pairing is likely to come up against some seriously heavy artillery in the form of Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilangi.
My pairing shows enough without the ball to make sure we nullify that threat: Ben Tapuai and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Ben Tapuai is rounding into the full package I thought he would become when I saw him in the Wallabies jersey against Canada. In that match I saw a great swerve, some nice short passing and a boot, but that was Canada.
After flashes of brilliance interrupted by injury he’s now displaying those same skills, plus some sound defence in Super Rugby. He’s taken the chance with both hands.
Adam Ashley-Cooper is still the best outside centre in Australia and might even be better but for the time he spent being shuffled around into other positions.
My back three is picked with the aim to counter-attack all day and only kick the ball away in dire circumstances.
Digby Ioane is the best winger in Australia, and even when we play badly he tends to get the Wallabies moving forward when he’s not finishing off moves.
I’d argue Alfie Mafi is the form winger of the Australian conference. Joseph Tomane has had some good games so far and deserved recognition but I think Mafi has been better all year.
Mafi can run the ball back and hold himself in contact to get support. He’s got a good step and isn’t afraid to back himself either.
Shake and bake is the only way to describe what he did to Drew Mitchell in the game against the Waratahs this year, probably the only true move pulled by an Australian wing in a while.
For a wing playing in a largely dysfunctional side Mafi has been immense and would not let the Wallabies down.
The full back position is to be occupied by Jesse Mogg, who has the speed, awareness and kicking length to become Australia’s next Chris Latham. We’ve been waiting long enough.
Mogg will be the defacto kicker in the back three and he’ll give any Lions punt a run for its money.
My team would have a 5-2 bench split between forwards and backs for a number of reasons.
Firstly, if Genia goes down we aren’t winning anyway. So there’s no need to have replacement for him in the match day squad.
Secondly, the forwards are going to be where the real attrition is and I want to have ample opportunity to inject energy and explosiveness.
I have a trump card in the fifth reserve spot.
I’ve picked Ben Alexander for his versatility, and I’m hoping that when he comes in there aren’t too many scrums left for him to get destroyed in.
Tatafu Polota-Nau is Austraila’s second best hooker. We’ll use him in short bursts and only bring him on earlier if the game needs a kamikaze to shake it up.
Rob Simmons is more experienced than Peter Kimlin and is a better lineout option.
I’m not so confident about this pick, but Australia’s stock is so low in this area.
Nathan Sharpe, get out of your very fetching suits, sign a contract and pull on a jersey for us!
Michael Hooper is a perfect replacement forward for this series. He will bring great energy and speed to the game when he’s unleashed.
Fotu Auelua is my trump card. In a 10 or 15 minute burst Auelua would be an absolute handful. In my mind Auelua is the Wallabies hand grenade. Put him out there and watch people fly.
The back reserves will be Christian Lealiifano and James O’Connor. Both are classy players.
O’Connor is struggling in a poor Rebels side, but in a Wallabies team he could almost slip in anywhere a change is needed.
I’d probably use him to replace Genia in the event he went down.
Lealiifano is able to play fly-half and inside centre well and is the sort of creative player that could make the most of space later in the game.
He could also play fullback if O’Connor was required elsewhere.
Here’s the team laid out for you Robbie Deans. Just copy/paste.
1. Greg Holmes
2. Stephen Moore
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Hugh McMeniman
5. James Horwill
6. Ben Mowen/Dave Dennis
7. Liam Gill
8. Wycliffe Palu
9. Will Genia
10. Quade Cooper
11. Digby Ioane
12. Ben Tapuai
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper
14. Alfi Mafi
15. Jesse Mogg
16. Ben Alexander
17. Tatafu Polota Nau
18. Rob Simmons
19. Fotu Auelua
20. Michael Hooper
21. Christian Lealiifano
22. James O’Connor
*Disclaimer - Views expressed within this story are not necessarily the views of the ARU or rugby.com.au