New-look Wallabies on the Bledisloe radar

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Don’t be surprised to see a new face in the Wallabies’ Bledisloe team this weekend.

There are four uncapped players in the current squad - Reece Hodge, Lopeti Timani, Allan Alaalatoa and Tom Robertson - and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he wouldn’t be counting them out of the Bledisloe.

“There might be a chance there somewhere in the 23, like a genuine chance,” he said.

“It really comes down to what we think's the best combination for the starting team and what'll happen, then that'll decide how the finishers look.

“There's a genuine possibility that someone could, it just depends on the mix that we go with in the starting team.”

Allan Alaaalatoa is one of four potential debutants. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCheika said we was close to finalising his side for the opening Bledisloe Test, with his focus on combinations, though even that leaves the door open for a number of selections.

“I think there's been good competition with some of the guys coming back, it's presented us with a few different situations that we need to consider about pairings,” he said.

“They've competed hard against each other.”

The return of the European group has flooded the backline with options, but June debutants including Dane Haylett-Petty were making those choices more difficult.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell were the starting wingers for last year’s World Cup final, though Mitchell has only returned to full training this week after groin surgery in May.

“There's four backs straight back in that are competing for spots and then you've got guys like Lopeti Timani who's really impressed,” Cheika said.

“(Lock) Adam Coleman now that he's had a bit of experience in June, Dane Haylett-Petty obviously had a really good series in June.

Dane Haylett-Petty impressed in June. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley“Some of those young guys we blooded in June are competing for spots again and that's a bit of our strategy is bring the guys back in who have got the experience, push from the youth that want to break into the team and squeeze everyone in the middle.

“There's still plenty of time to go on that strategy but it's starting to happen.”

One player they struggled to replace in June was that of X-Factor utility Kurtley Beale, though one of their own

Quade Cooper could come closest to fitting the bill, though he lacks the true versatility of the former Waratah.

"He's definitely got X Factor, there's no doubt about that," Cheika said.

"There's areas of his game he's really been working hard to improve on and really, really pleased with him since he's returned into training.

Could Quade Cooper crack the 23? Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyOne of Cooper’s biggest criticisms has been is extreme peaks and troughs in games but Cheika said he had brought consistency back from France.

“Only he knows what's inside his own head  but from what I've seen on the outside, he's been looking really switched on, pretty even,” he said.

“A few down bits, a few up bits but more even than I've seen him before, more consistent that means and then we want him to bring that to the games all throughout the season,” he said.

The Wallabies and All Blacks are set to name their teams on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Test.