Mafi, Clark and Feauai-Sautia emerge as World Cup bolters after Wallabies call-ups

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Queensland hooker Alex Mafi and former Aussie sevens speedster Cam Clark have emerged as possible World Cup bolters are being called into the Wallabies’ camp in Brisbane.

And Queensland power-runner Chris Feauai-Sautia is also a chance of wearing Wallaby gold after a six-year absence after getting a call-up as well.

A 41-man Wallabies squad is attending the third of three pre-winter camps in Queensland, where they’ll continue to formulate tactics and begin light on-field training sessions.

Mafi, who has been starting for the Reds ahead of Brandon Paenga-Amosa, had already been given the nod to attend prior to Tolu Latu’s dumping due to a DUI charge, but the 22-year-old's chances of playing this year have now escalated rapidly.

Latu is a repeat offender as far as discipline problems go, but he has been given plenty of chances by coach Michael Cheika given his power and talent.

But that patience has just about run out and despite hooker being a problem spot, there is every chance Latu will now be scratched given he is clearly a high risk liability - on and off the field.

With Paenga-Amosa not selected for the camp and Jordan Uelese in attendace but having not yet played Super Rugby due to injury, Mafi is now right in the mix for Rugby Championship action.

Brisbane-raised Mafi debuted for the Reds in 2017 and has played 23 Super Rugby games, and he showed his talent with a superb try from a cross-field kick against the Waratahs on Saturday night.

Mafi was denied a double by Clark, who pulled off a try-saver and was rewarded for good form on the right wing for NSW this season with a call-up to the camp.

The Rio Olympian is not the flashiest winger in Australia but Clark rarely puts a foot wrong, both defensively and with the ball in hand. Brumbies flyer Toni Pulu is also at the camp.

Along with the returns of veteran playmaker Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua, Feauai-Sautia has also been given a chance to wear Wallaby gold again after a six-year absence.

Feauai-Sautia played the last of his two Tests in 2013 but has been in outstanding form for the Reds at no.13 this year, outside Samu Kerevi.

Two notable omissions from the Brisbane camp are Brumbies backrowers Pete Samu and Locky McCaffrey.

Samu was recruited heavily by Cheika last year from the Crusaders and is believed to be still in the mix, particularly given his recent form, but a lack of availability for the second camp contributed to his absence from the third.

McCaffrey was in superb form for the Brumbies prior to a knee injury last month, and his name has been mentioned by Wallabies selectors; but it’s believed his lack of recent game time was not helpful in a deep and tightly contested positional group.

Interestingly, however, injury-prone backrower Rob Valetini is at the camp despite being sidelined for most of this season.

Elsewhere, Reds rookie Tate McDermott is also not attending the camp but is still being watched by the Wallabies selectors.

Karmichael Hunt is another who is in-form this year but has not been at any Wallabies' camps.

New selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor joined the camp at the weekend.

The Wallabies have chosen to not publish a full list of those in attendance at any of the three camps this year because the player numbers frequently change, and are said to be not neccesarily reflective of a player's standing as far as World Cup chances go.

In previous years Cheika has called in new faces for them to acclimatise and get up to speed on the Wallabies' playbook and training systems.

The Wallabies will conduct meetings and strategy sessions with coaches in Brisbane and they will hit the field to begin lightly running team shapes on Monday at Ballymore.