Cheika contemplates leaving Toomua and TPN out of November Tests

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Matt Toomua could have played his final Test of 2018 as Michael Cheika mulls whether to call the playmaker and his Leicester teammate Tatafu Polota-Nau into his Spring Tour squad.

The pair have flown back to England to return to the Tigers with the conclusion of the Rugby Championship and will not be eligible to play in the final Bledisloe Test in three weeks under World Rugby’s Regulation Nine.

They are both eligible to play in the November Spring Tour but with their heavy workloads Cheika said he was contemplating giving them a break.

Toomua was shifted back to the bench for Australia's clash with the Pumas after three consecutive starts, with Cheika preferring Bernard Foley in the 10 role.

Polota-Nau’s position could be the more curious, with Cheika left to contemplate his front row group as the end of the year nears.

Though Polota-Nau is not a prop, Cheika said the loss of Tom Robertson for the better part of a year with a suspected ACL injury would be a factor in his overall front row picks.

“We'll have to see how we structure the front-row stocks now we've lost a loosehead there,” he said.

“We'll see what happens there, what happens with Taf.

“Those guys who are playing in England, him and Matt Toomua, (we) have also got to be mindful of what that looks like, the whole season.

“Whether I decide to go with them in November or not, we'll see.

“Otherwise they may get a chance to have a bit of a breather in November, because they've got Anglo-Welsh games.”

Tolu Latu’s performance, even including a late brain fade, in the win over Argentina was enough to demand his retention in the team and that is a factor that could make Cheika’s decision over Polota-Nau a bit easier.

Latu was a beast when he was injected into the game at half-time and threw a super slick pass that put Israel Folau for a pivotal try.

“He was excellent. I thought he was outstanding,” he said.

“That shows that guy, how much talent and ability he has.

“Consistency is the thing he needs to bring so he can be there in the spot or competing for the spot every week.

“He shouldn't be out of the team like he was for that couple of weeks.

“But in the same breath, he went to NRC and got some rugby so a bit of fitness, playing footy helps these guys.

“He got there, played well and the opportunity came for him.”

Cheika all but ruled a 2018 Test return was for Queensland prop James Slipper, who missed last week's round of NRC with an injury but has been in strong form as a tighthead for Queensland Country.

The Wallabies coach said he would likely only seriously consider Slipper as a loosehead, though the switches of Allan Alaalatoa and Sekope Kepu to that side of the scrum have made it an even more competitive area.

"We'd be considering him, if he was to come back into contention, as a loosehead," he said.

"So he probably needs to get a bit of footy on the loosehead side although I think he was injured this week and did not play or something like that.

"We had a look obviously at that. Jermaine Ainsley's done some good stuff. Now we've had both Keps and Allan cross over to the loose, we've got a couple of options there.

"I'd rather just let it settle down for a few days and see what we can do from a selection point of view then.

In the backs, Cheika is hoping that Samu Kerevi will be available for the tour, pending a return to the NRC in coming weeks.

Kerevi’s Brisbane City are just outside of finals, potentially giving him just one week to get a match under his belt almost four months after injuring his bicep in the Wallabies June Series, but Cheika was optimistic about his chances.

Fellow injured centre Tevita Kuridrani appears less certain of a 2017 return after a pec injury he suffered in the final regular round of Super Rugby.

“Samu Kerevi should be back soon,” he said.

“He's ideally going to play some football so he can be considered for the tour.

“Kuridrani's due back around the time we leave for the tour, so whether he'll have enough footy or any footy under his belt will be an issue.”

The Wallabies arrive back in Australia on Monday night and will have a week off before reconvening in Sydney ahead of the Rugby Australia Awards and the third Bledisloe Test in Japan.

Cheika said that next three weeks would be critical for his team.

“I think there's a season's worth of learning in that game for our lads and now it's up to them to take it,” he said.

“No-one can force that into their minds, into their conscience or their sub-conscience.

“They've got to take the necessary pieces that are going to help them to be standout players going forward.”

The Wallabies leave for Japan on October 21 and head on the Spring Tour on November 3 with Tests against Wales (November 10), Italy (November 17) and England (November 24) to finish the season.