Cheika losing sleep over Wallabies backrow

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

You’d think the Wallabies backrow is an area that keeps Michael Cheika sleeping soundly but the selection battle is one that is keeping him up at night 

While Cheika said the side had been initially training with last year’s starting combination of Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and David Pocock, the form of the next group was hard to ignore.

“We’ve trained a lot with last year’s combination initially and then I think that some of what we’ve seen from some of the guys who have rotated in there like Sean McMahon, like Liam Gill like Leroy Houston, like Wycliff Palu, has been excellent,” he said.

“It really is making that (selection) difficult for me.

“Not much sleep last night, trying to get it done but I’ve been really pleased with the effort and the attitude there.

And what he chooses in the first Test is no certainty to be carried through all, with Cheika hinting a switch back to a more backrow set up.

“Obviously we can play the back row in certain ways ,either with the two open sides or in the more traditional sense and I think we’ll use both of those options throughout the series.”

The Wallabies will have had just two weeks together when the Brisbane Test rolls around, with the 2015 World Cup final their most recent international.

England, on the other hand, has played a full Six Nations tournament and a warm-up Test against Wales under Eddie Jones.

Michael Hooper has relished the competition in camp. Photo: ARU Media/Brian HookDespite their lack of lead-in time, incumbent openside Michael Hooper said he wouldn’t be overly concerned about a changeup in the back row, if that’s what Cheika chose to do.

“I think whoever Cheik picks is going to be the man,” he said.

“We back the coaches to pick the team well, to get us prepared well, which they have done this week.

“It’s been a fantastic week and there’s been no resting on our laurels from last year. We’ve certainly tucked in.

“Whoever he picks, we’ll back.”

Hooper said he had been energised by the intense competition among backrowers.

“We’re under no illusions, there’s plenty of good players there,” he said.

“Throughout Super Rugby it’s been the case and this week, it’s been no different.

“The guys have come into the camp flying this week off what’s been a tough Super Rugby campaign.

“Listening to Cheik, I’ve got no idea who he’s going to run with but I’m excited.

“You’ve got to put your hand up and want to be a part of the squad.”

Sean McMahon has been putting heat on the Wallabies' back row incumbents. Photo: ARU Media/Brian HookWhichever combination Cheika goes with, Hooper said he was well aware of the threat posed by a tweaked English backrow.

Former Highlander James Haskell will likely line up in the back row for England and Hooper said he would be a major threat.

“I've played him when he was over here playing a couple of years back,” he said.

“He’s a fit guy, big guy, gets through a lot of work and can be damaging.

“So, whatever back row alignment they go for, we’ll have to take in our stride and deal with.”