Time the biggest enemy for Karmichael Hunt

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Time, and opportunity, look set to be major barriers when it comes to Karmichael Hunt's chances of a Test return, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says.

Though Hunt is free to play Super Rugby for the Reds after serving a four-match suspension and being fined for bringing the game into disrepute, it appears unlikely new Reds coach Brad Thorn will be rushing him back into the side.

The 31-year-old, who re-signed with Australian rugby at the end of last year, is believed to be looking overseas, but given the timing of the disciplinary action, any overseas move seems likely to have to wait until next season.

Cheika is a big supporter of allowing provincial coaches to make their own calls, and said he would support whatever decision Thorn took in the coming weeks.

Even if Hunt does return, Cheika said he would be up against the clock to try and force his way into a Test spot, with a host of players in those backline spots showing strong form.

"It's up to the teams to work out what they're doing, that's where we leave a bit of autonomy with the teams to make their choices," he said.

"If he gets that opportunity to play, he'll have to strike form pretty quickly because there's a fair few guys playing in the number 12 or in the fullback jersey who are going pretty well at the moment."

Cheika had no trouble pointing out some Test bolters for the upcoming June Series against Ireland, who will arrive in Australia as Six Nations champions and the world number two side in just over two months' time.

"If I talk about a few guys that haven't been in our radar perhaps previously, I would say, I've really liked watching Caleb Timu out of the Reds, he's done really well," he said.

"Also there, (Chris) Feauai-Sautia has had an excellent start to the season.

"Then some of our other (existing squad) players, I think Joe Powell's had an excellent start to the season.

"Other guys like Jack Maddocks who was on the (Spring) tour, Liam Wright who was brought into the squad, even Taniela (Tupou)

"I've seen a lot of our younger playes starting to step up and take prominent roles in the side."

The development of his players in the past two years has Cheika confident they'll be a better outfit in June than the one that faced a similarly tricky challenge against a high-flying England in 2016.

England beat the Wallabies 3-nil in that series two years ago, but since then Ireland has taken the mantle as top European team, and Cheika said it would be a chance for the Wallabies to show their improvement as well.

“(It'll be) very similar to how England came here in '16," he said.

"We'll get a look at ourselves two years later, see where we're at against what's the best opposition in Europe and very consistent and they'll be in good spirits I'd imagine coming down here to take us on.

“Ireland have taken the bar up as far as the consistency of playing and how they're delivering their footy.

“For us, we'll be a little bit different as well, we will have had players that were getting cap one, cap two in that series who are getting cap 30 or 40.”

There have been suggestions players including flyhalf Johnny Sexton might be left at home after a monster workload through the European season, and while Cheika said while he hoped they would bring their first-string side, the visitors would be intimidating either way.

“I don't know what they'll do,” he said.

“I see some very, very handy players there as well.

“Johnny's backup - a guy called Joey Carbery - he could be playing in many international teams already, he's just not playing because he's got a player like Sexton there in front of him.

“I'm sure that whoever they bring - I'd be surprised if they didn't bring everyone to be honest.

“They're number two in the world now.

“They'd be looking to keep that status going into the lead ups to the World Cup.

“I'd be surprised if they didn't bring everyone.”

The Wallabies open their June Series against Ireland on June 9 at Suncorp Stadium. Buy tickets here.