Cheika open to number eight demands

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

If Lopeti Timani earns his first Test chance this weekend, it might give Wallabies fans another glimpse of life after David Pocock.

Timani was called into the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship, having played mainly in the second row for the Rebels this season, but the natural number eight could be used across the park for the Wallabies.

The 25-year-old has been named on an extended bench for Saturday night’s clash with the Springboks, but Cheika said he was yet to make a call on who would drop out of the nine.

“We’ll take a look at what the weather might be doing, or how we feel on the day, flip a coin, who knows”,” he laughed.

“We’ve got a few views on what we might want to do.”

David Pocock will be going on sabbatical in 2017. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWith Pocock set for a one-year sabbatical next season, the Wallabies’ backrow structure is far from fully set but the selection

Timani would be more of a traditional number eight, while his seemingly direct competition in Sean McMahon is that bullocking prototype, though he more than makes up for it with his work rate.

McMahon replaced Pocock at number eight in June, when the Brumbies flanker broke his cheekbone, but Cheika said he hoped a player would ultimately determine the makeup of their team long-term.

“There’s an opportunity for someone to become a more traditional style number eight and take that position, yes,” he said.

“But we want people demanding that spot, not having to choose. I want a few guys to stand up.”

Quade Cooper has confidence in his new partnership with Bernard Foley. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyAs for whether Timani gets a run on Saturday night, Cheika was relatively coy.

“We’re very keen to give Lopeti an opportunity to go out and play some Test football, he’s been knocking lumps out of chaps at training so it will be a good chance for him to play and he’s just got to have his detail right as well,” he said.

“We’ll wait until tomorrow to check out what we think the conditions are doing and go from there.

“He’s got a good scrum and he’s working hard with the lads on is lineout so he’s a very powerful ball carrier and defender so he can cover a bit in the second row and back row.

The Wallabies have made changes each Test this season, limiting their continuity, but Cheika said he wanted to breed a competitive environment through his squad.

He didn’t let up on a chance to heap the pressure on the candidates to succeed Pocock, hinting that players outside the squad had caught his eye this season.

Cheika has praised Force backrower Angus Cottrell plenty this season, while there is already heated rivalries for backrow spots within the Wallabies camp.

“There’s a few guys who aren’t in this squad even… I would imagine Ben McCalman, there are a few guys who have not been involved in camps at all that I’ve seen play some Super Rugby that I think: ‘that guy could do a really good job at eight,” he said.

“There’s going to be some pressure there but you might have a guy like Sean McMahon saying something different about that too so that’s what we want, that competition for spots."