June Wallabies squad: Five talking points

by Sam Phillips

Michael Cheika has named his first Wallabies squad of 2017 and there is plenty to talk about.

Here's what caught our eye.

1. Fresh blood

Italy, Fiji and Scotland are hardly the might of England and Cheika looks as though he may mix and match some combinations by naming eight potential debutants.

Jack Dempsey, Ned Hanigan, Richard Hardwick, Lukhan Tui, Karmichael Hunt, Marika Koroibete, Eto Nabuli and Joe Powell all have varying levels of prior involvement with the national squad but they've all shown more than enough this Super Rugby season to suggest they will play a part come June.

Perhaps Dempsey, Tui and Nabuli are the three surprises of the group.Jack Dempsey is back from injury and in Michael Cheika's June squad. Photo: Getty ImagesDempsey has only returned to club footy with Gordon at the weekend after a long layoff with an ankle injury, Tui has only made a starting second row gig at the Reds his own in the last month and Nabuli has as many bad games as he does good.

Despite that, all three have shown the potential to be impact players at the next level and that is what Cheika will be searching for throughout this series.

Hanigan's form has been exemplary, as has Hunt's.

Hardwick has shown flashes of breakdown brilliance and never shirks physicality, while Powell has made the most of his opportunity behind the best Super Rugby forward pack in Australia.

Marika Koroibete is learning the game on the fly but he will have more chances to show his fantastic finishing ability in Wallaby gold than he has for the Rebels to date.

2. Higginbotham's homecoming

Higginbotham has been in top notch form for the Reds. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelScott Higginbotham wasn't in the 50-man group that met in Canberra in April but his selection in this squad caps what has been an irresistible start to the year.

He hasn't missed a beat since returning from Japan and provides the kind of game-breaking ability that the All Blacks have in spades.

Some pundits have said he doesn't hit enough rucks but that's a myth if you watch him closely.

He is Queensland's most consistent player in a dire year and has been duly rewarded.

3. Fardy can feel hard done by

There was no room for Scott Fardy in Cheika's squad. Photo: Getty ImagesScott Fardy's omission is a big shock.

The evergreen flanker has been in superb form for the Brumbies but the coach's rationale in his omission is simple.

At 32, Fardy has less rugby in front of him than he does behind him and Cheika doesn't view players of that age that aren't potential starters as necessities.

With the likes of Dempsey, Hanigan, Hardwick, Higginbotham and Timani all well-equipped to play at blindside flanker or No. 8, there's no room for Fardy.

His breakdown presence will be missed, especially without the presence of a genuine fetcher in the backrow.

4. Backs filled with Fijian flavour

Koroibete played a non-cap match against the Barbarians in Europe last year. Photo: Getty ImagesNabuli, Koroibete, Sefa Naivalu, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi and Henry Speight could all line up against their country of birth in June.

Kerevi has spoken about the "emotional rollercoaster" he would be front and centre on should he be picked to face the Fijians and one would think his Fijian-born teammates would be feeling the same.

Nabuli, Koroibete, Naivalu and Speight will all be vying for two wing spots and there may only be room for one of Kerevi and Kuridrani, so there will be plenty of competition between the countrymen.

5. Openside stocks bare

Michael Hooper will be one of the first picked but should he be unavailable through injury or suspension, Cheika will have to take applications for the openside flanker job.

No other player in this squad has started a game at openside for his Super Rugby club and that's a concern.

Hardwick hits the breakdown like an openside flanker and Cheika says he will be the backup should Hooper go down but there is a shortage of out-and-out fetchers in this squad, especially with Scott Fardy's omission.

Could we see George Smith's Steven Bradbury moment after all?