SQUAD NAMED: Super form and selection panel input behind first Wallabies' squad, says Cheika

The Rugby Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Michael Cheika says Super Rugby form and the newly acquired input of a selection panel have been the main factors in naming his first Wallabies squad of the season.

Cheika said the 34 players named today in the squad for the opening Rugby Championship Test in South Africa are definite front-runners for the World Cup.

While he would not count others out - naming injured quartet David Pocock (calf), Adam Coleman (shoulder), Jordan Petaia (foot)  and Tatafu Polota-Nau (ankle) and the newly-contracted James O'Connor as players who would get their chances to impress - testing combinations and trialing players is not the goal of the Wallabies' five Tests ahead of the World Cup though.

Momentum will be the key if Australia is to challenge in Japan from "way back" in the rankings.

Given that, the first squad named by the new three-man national selection panel of Cheika, director of rugby Scott Johnson and former Wallaby and Australian sevens coach Michael O'Connor, had been selected on Super Rugby form.

"We tried to look at Super Rugby form, what players can bring and what they've done before," Cheika said.

"It's a bit of a mix and I suppose that comes in with the form of the Super Rugby teams this year and then what we've seen from the players that have been in camp this week as well.

"Only 31 are going (to the World Cup) and there's a few to come back.

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"I'm not expecting anything right now, I'm thinking of next week and leading into South Africa.

"I know that's a bit cliched but one thing I think is going to be big this year is building momentum.

"It's no secret we're coming from way back and to come from way back you've got to build momentum and belief in yourself on the way, it's really important.

"(The final World Cup squad) will work itself out, they'll pick themselves by the way they play and perform and their dynamic inside the team.

"We've just got to help them get the good performances under their belt."

While Cheika said selectors had made a pact not to talk about their deliberations outside the selection room, the absence of Cheika favourites Nick Phipps and Ned Hanigan indicate the likely robust nature of discussions.

It's something that Cheika has welcomed though, believing it will lead to the best outcome for the Wallabies.

"It was very tough, it's the first time we've really worked in earnest as a selection panel," he said.

"There were differing opinions, we were really challenging one another and I think we've come up with a better outcome for that than maybe if I'd have picked it by myself.

"We made a bit of a pact that what goes on in the selectors' room, stays in the selectors' room.

"I've seen it as a very positive process. It's great that they've done it, it's going to help me a lot and it's going to be a good process.

"I don’t' think it's easier, it's just more opinions and it's good, without a doubt."

The Waratahs' poor campaign has likely cost Phipps, with White's form overseas set to be rewarded with an opportunity against the Springboks, while the depth of talent in the backrow with Isi Naisarani now qualified to represent Australia and  the versatility of Luke Jones, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Rob Valetini pushing Haningan out.

"I don't know if I'm giving him a chance, I think he's earnt it," Cheika said of White.

"His form over in the UK has been outstanding and that's why we pushed hard to get him back.

"He's finding his voice inside of the team already and he's another different personality.

"We've got some really good options at no.9 right now. You see players of the calibre of Nick Phipps and Jake Gordon not in the squad.

"So that gives us some good options. White brings something a bit different and it's going to be interesting when they start competing for the Test spots."

The Wallabies squad leaves for South African on Sunday ahead of their Rugby Championship opener against South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on July 20.

"That's the biggest stage there in South Africa," Cheika said.

"It's going to be unreal and I'm sure in a World Cup year it's going to be a great atmosphere.

Liam Wright is one of three uncapped players in the squad. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"I know a lot of footy says: 'we're excited, we're excited, we're excited', but anxious, nervous, it all comes together and that all fuels you to play better.

"And in those types of atmospheres where there's going to be a few gold supporter jerseys out there but never enough to outweigh the opposition, that's where you've got to be resilient.

"That's the best preparation for the World Cup - not (necessarily) the best game preparation but it's the best experience you can have for what else is going to happen."

The Wallabies take on South Africa on Saturday July 20 at Ellis Park Johannesburg, kicking off on Sunday July 21 at 1:05am AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Kayo Sports.

SQUAD

Forwards

Allan Alaalatoa (32 Tests, Brumbies, 25)

Rory Arnold (19 Tests , Brumbies, 29)

Jack Dempsey (10 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 25)

Folau Fainga’a (7 Tests, Brumbies, 24)

Michael Hooper (c) (91 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 27)

Luke Jones (3 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 28)

Sekope Kepu (103 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 33)

Tolu Latu (12 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 26)

Isi Naisarani (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 24)

Tom Robertson (24 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 24)

Izack Rodda (17 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)

Rob Simmons (94 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 30)

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (11, Queensland Reds, 22)

Scott Sio (55 Tests, Brumbies, 27)

James Slipper (86 Tests, Brumbies, 30)

Taniela Tupou (11 Tests, Queensland Reds, 23)

Jordan Uelese (2 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 22)

Rob Valetini (uncapped, Brumbies, 20)

Liam Wright (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 21)

Backs

Adam Ashley-Cooper (117 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 35)

Tom Banks (3 Tests, Brumbies, 25)

Kurtley Beale (83 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 30)

Bernard Foley (68 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)

Will Genia (100 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 31)

Dane Haylett-Petty (31 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 30)

Reece Hodge (33 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 24)

Samu Kerevi (25 Tests, Queensland Reds, 25)

Marika Koroibete (20 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)

Tevita Kuridrani (58 Tests, Brumbies, 28)

Christian Lealiifano (19 Tests, Brumbies, 31)

Jack Maddocks (7 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 22)

Joe Powell (4 Tests, Brumbies, 25)

Matt To'omua (42 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 29)

Nic White (22 Tests, Exeter Chiefs, 29)

FIXTURES

2019 The Rugby Championship fixtures

All times AEST

Sunday July 21

1:05am  - South Africa vs Australia, Ellis Park, Johannesburg

4:05am - Argentina vs New Zealand, Jose Amalfitani Stadium

Saturday July 27

8pm - Australia vs Argentina, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

5:35pm - New Zealand vs South Africa, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Saturday August 10

8pm - Australia vs All Blacks, Optus Stadium, Perth

Sunday August 11

5:40am - Argentina vs South Africa, Salta

Internationals

Saturday August 17

5:35pm - New Zealand vs Australia, Eden Park, Auckland

12am - South Africa vs Argentina, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria