Wallabies backrow puzzle far from finished

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

With no David Pocock, it seems the only Wallabies backrow certainty come June is vice-captain Michael Hooper.

Hooper is arguably one of the only automatic selections in this year’s Test team, but the identity of his backrow partners come June 10 remains to be seen, with Pocock still on a year-long sabbatical.

“As far as all the back row spots are concerned this year, we've just got to put our best hands up, best foot forward, want to be there starting or bench,” he said.

“In coming up against teams and Aussie teams this year, there's been guys who've been doing well and guys who are always going to, particularly come Wallaby time, want to be there and be pushing hard for a starting jersey.”

Lopeti Timani will make his Wallabies debut. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyThe no. 8 spot is a particular mystery, with Lopeti Timani having a mixed start to the year, while the Force’s Richard Hardwick has made an impression early.

Timani is set to return to Super Rugby this week after a four-week suspension, after making five appearances for the Wallabies in 2016, playing at the back of the scrum.

Sean McMahon, who can play six or eight, threw his hat very much into the ring in his return to Super Rugby against the Reds, with four weeks to spare before the June series.

The 22-year-old is off-contract at the end of 2017 and has been linked with an overseas move as well as a return to Queensland but while he remains in Australia, he appears the next in line to step into the backrow void.

Hooper caught a glimpse of McMahon’s return and said he only expected more from him as the series came closer.

“His ball carrying's awesome, so getting guys fit at the right time of the year's always important,” Hooper said.

“It’s always important for the squad but good to see Seany, as a person, Seany back on the field enjoying his rugby.”

“I think I could say it across the board that no one should walk back into the side.

“However, someone like Seany who is a quality world-class player, he's able to get back to fitness and back to form, I'm sure he's been absolutely bursting all year to want to get on the field.

“His intent's just going to be awesome. We saw glimpses of that on Saturday night.

“I’m expecting more from him, particularly playing this week.”

Karmichael Hunt will not play in the England Test series. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWhile he was reticent to name any standout backrowers, Hooper said he had taken note of Karmichael Hunt in recent weeks, with the Reds fullback putting pressure on incumbent Israel Folau and the Force’s Dane Haylett-Petty also facing a race against the clock to be ready for June.

While Hooper doesn’t expect Hunt to overtake his fellow code-hopper, he has caught Hooper’s eye.

“I've been impressed by Karmichael's willingness and desire to lay and play hard rugby,” he said.

“I've really been enjoying watching him play because you just want guys who are fronting up and just trying really hard. impressed by him.

“Izzy's a very consistent performer and has been one of our best performers in a Wallaby jersey for however long now, so not expecting things to change there.”

The Wallabies take on Fiji, Scotland and Italy in their June Tests, all kicking off at 3pm AEST. Tickets on sale at ticketek.com.au/wallabies