Cheika keeping open mind on centre contenders

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is keeping his options open when it comes to naming his newest inside centre for the second Bledisloe Test, with enigmatic Quade Cooper and rookie Reece Hodge among the frontrunners. 

With Matt Giteau (ankle) and Matt Toomua (concussion) both ruled out of this weekend’s Wellington Test, there is no clear frontrunner for the 12 spot on Saturday.

Other 12 options Christian Lealiifano (illness) and Kurtley Beale were already ruled out of Wallabies duties before the Rugby Championship, leaving them with few proven options in the spot.

Quade Cooper is in the mix for a Test return. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCheika saw the somewhat humourous side of the dire straits in which his side finds itself but threw up a handful of possibilities to fill the vacant position.

“I’ll probably retire the number 12 jersey I think,” he laughed.

“It's not been a good one so far in this series but there's a few options.”

Cheika has the choice of reverting to the dual ball-carrying pairing that he used in the June series in Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani or opt for two playmakers as he has for the majority of his Wallabies stint.

Samu Kerevi played inside centre in June. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley“There's like I said on the weekend, the possibility of playing more ball runners together with Samu coming in there or we could go with, try and work two playmakers,” he said.

“Quade's obviously been there or there abouts in training.

“Reece Hodge has also put his hand up quite well at training over the last few weeks.

“It would be a big call for him but he looks like he's up for it too. I think if we go right back to the very start about attitude and who wants to make it right and we'll go through the selections from there.

Reece Hodge has impressed Wallabies coaches. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCooper has played little 12, but Cheika said that would not discount the mercurial playmaker for any number of position, even a potential fullback switch should that be required, thought that would likely only happen if Israel Folau was moved out of 15.

“Quade's someone I'd consider in the team at 10 or 12 or fullback, depending on what our situation requires,” he said.

“Obviously we've lost a few of our regular 12s so we're going to have to do something there that's a little bit different whether its structure in our play or set up in our personnel.”

If Hodge were to make his Wallabies debut this weekend, it could continue a remarkable journey for the Rebels utility back, who was only included in the June camp as an injury replacement but has impressed national staff at every level.

Flanker Sean McMahon is expected to make it through training this week, putting him in contention for a Test return after an infection from a broken nose ruled him out of the opening Bledisloe..