Australia v England: the contenders

by staff

Michael Cheika has seen everyone in his squad play over the opening two Rugby World Cup matches. The 23 against Fiji was their strongest outfit, many who played against Uruguay are on the fringes.

Cheika kept his cards close to his chest after the game, saying some players had boosted their chances.

“I think there’s a few players that definitely put their hand up for a selection in the areas I wanted those players to work on,” he said.

But did anyone on Sunday do enough to change the Wallabies’ strongest line up ahead of a pivotal pool game against England on Saturday?


Sean McMahon has been a man of the match for the Wallabies twice. Photo: Getty Images

The Rebels beast could potentially be the Stuart McGill to David Pocock and Michael Hooper’s Shane Warne. McMahon sits behind the pair, along with a handful of other world-class sevens who didn’t even make the World Cup cut. The 21-year-old was man of the match with a two-try effort but that won’t assure him of a spot against England. When you’re behind probably the two best opensides in the world, who have forced Michael Cheika to pick them both in a starting XV.

What he said: “They are two unbelievable players and I’m just working my way to try and eventually maybe get a spot there.”


Ben McCalman has shown quality in his Wallabies outings. Photo: Getty Images

McCalman was the other that reinforced Australia’s back row talent, one of three players to score two tries. He was also potent in defence, making all of his eight tackles in the match. McCalman was dangerous around the breakdown.


Will Skelton impressed against Uruguay. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

A disappointing end to Skelton’s solid performance came with a shoulder injury midway through the second half, replaced by Kane Douglas. The impact of Rob Simmons, Douglas’ starting mate against Fiji, who came on for Wycliff Palu after half-time, underlined his value to the team and stand-in captain Dean Mumm also scored a try in his first start in the World Cup.


Nick Phipps could be in contention for a starting spot against England. Photo: Getty Images

Phipps had his chance at starting halfback through the Rugby Championship but he couldn’t quite claim a stranglehold on the position after a mixed tournament. He had quite a bit of ball on Sunday, with 84 passes, and his effort will likely still give him a chance to make an impact off the bench for the England game.

What he said: "I didn’t really think too much about it (competing with Will Genia). I just wanted to get out there and get a bit of time under my belt. There’s a lot of blokes in the team who haven’t had an opportunity yet, so I think we all just wanted to make sure we had a good time and played well."


Quade Cooper kicked five conversions against Uruguay. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

This was both the electrifying and frustrating moments of Quade. Cooper set up four tries, including the best of the match, finished by inside centre Matt Toomua in the 72nd minute. On the flipside, he was sent to the bin in the 15th minute. And, though the Wallabies might yet appeal the decision, it’s still disappointing for him. Conversions were also an issue for the flyhalf, who kicked five from 11 shots and that could come into thinking after the accurate goal kicking display from England against Wales on Saturday.


Drew Mitchell surpassed Chris Latham in the World Cup try tally in the win against Uruguay. Photo: Getty Images

Mitchell overcame a slow start to make the most of his first starting opportunity in this World Cup. His two-try performance made him Australia’s leading World Cup try scorer and equal second overall. He needs four tries to overtake Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries. He came into this tournament behind Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne in the wing hierarchy but definitely pushed his credentials against Uruguay.

What he said: "Today was my first opportunity at this World Cup and, in terms of pressing claims, it’s more about me crossing the line and finishing. There’s a lot of things that (Michael) Cheika and the selectors and the coaches will look at about things off the ball. I’ll go back and sit down with them and have a look at my game. Hopefully, at least, my name is thrown into the ring for selection."