Form is king when it comes to World Cup selection, says Johnson

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Scott Johnson has given hope to all Super Rugby players by saying current form - and not past experience - will be the no.1 consideration when comes to picking a Wallabies’ World Cup squad in a few months.

Johnson took up his role as Australian rugby’s new director of rugby last month, and is nearing the end a getting-to-know-you road trip that has seen him spend time at the Reds, Brumbies, Rebels and with the Junior Wallabies. He will be with the Waratahs this week.

The new boss said he’s been impressed so far by the talent and depth he’s seen in Australian rugby.

"I have sat abroad and in the cheap seats for 12 years. I have got to get down and dirty and that’s what the trip was about,” Johnson told media on Wednesday.

“Don’t let anyone tell us we don’t have talent in this country. We have good talent. It is impressive and I am buoyed by it.

"And the depth is better than I thought from afar. Four teams, it shows there is good talent out there."

In his role as one of three national selectors, Johnson will sit down with Michael Cheika and Michael O’Connor next week for the first time to start knuckling down on picking a World Cup squad for September.

With the Wallabies only playing four Test matches prior to the World Cup starting, the age-old question of whether a player can debut in a World Cup year - or be recalled after several years absence - emerges again.

Players like Locky McCaffrey and Isi Naisarani are both in great form but have yet to taste a minute of Test rugby, and the likes of Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt haven’t been involved since 2017.

With only four Tests before the World Cup kicks off, Johnson was asked if the Wallabies' short runway would be count against the selection of new faces.

"Players pick players and by that I mean if their form is good enough, they get picked,” Johnson said.

"If their form warrants it, they get picked. They usually determine their fate. It’s the odd choice that we have to split them but if a players’ form warrants selection, he will get selected.

Isi Naisarani in full flight against the Reds. Photo: Walmsley"(Combinations) will probably help if form is really close, but the form will be the determining factor. It usually works on the fact the best players get picked.”

Johnson said he is not concerned about David Pocock’s ongoing calf injury being a long-term complaint, and backed the Brumbies “programs” to get him back on the field.

He rated the two wins in South Africa last weekend, by the Brumbies and the Reds.

"Both really brave resilient wins, terrific. It’s not easy to win there so it’s exciting, it’s good. We have all our teams now competing for top eight positions, so it’s good,” Johnson said.

The likely absence of Israel Folau has left a vacancy at no.15, and Kurtley Beale’s performance for NSW against the Rebels drew praise from Johnson.

"Broken field runner he is fantastic,” Johnson said. 

"It’s good to see him get the ball with a bit of confidence. I thought he kicked out of hand really well too. He showed good composure. It is nice to see him back free-wheeling a bit. He is a wonderfully talented and gifted player, no doubt.”

Johnson said he is due to meet with Cheika to discuss the hiring of a Wallabies backs coach. Former Wallabies Matt GIteau and Brian Smith have both been mentioned in dispatches.

"We have got names, we are not without choice,” Johnson said.