Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Tim Horan believes Rugby Australia should relax their selection eligibility rules in World Cup years and pick Wallabies players from all over the globe.
Horan offered up his radical idea while endorsing the potential 11th hour selection of London-based Will Skelton for the 2019 World Cup, and also calling for Jordan Petaia to be taken to Japan as well. Horan also believes David Pocock is a must for the World Cup, but said he should be played off the bench instead of starting.
It was Horan’s take on expanding the World Cup selection catchment outside the current rules that caught most interest, however, when offered at the launch function of Foxtel’s Rugby World Cup coverage.
Horan, who won World Cups in 1991 and 1999 and is now a respected Foxtel commentator, said he not only backed the possible inclusion of Skelton from Saracens in England, but he believes the Wallabies selectors should be able to pick anyone.
Under the Giteau laws, Skelton’s eligibility for selection will depend on him signing a contract to return to Australia no later than a year from now.
"I would select Will Skelton if we need to,” Horan said.
"I am a big believer in … I get the Giteau rule, I get the 60 Test matches.
"But I am a big believer in a World Cup year, you should be able to select anyone from around the world. Where they are playing, it doesn’t matter, get the best team that gives us the best opportunity to win a World Cup.”
Currently, the only other way a player who is not playing in Australia can play for the Wallabies is if they have more than 60 Test caps and given seven years of service to Australian rugby.
Horan acknowledged his theory would carry the risk of seeing players accept foreign riches, instead of staying in Super Rugby, knowing they could still be picked for the Wallabies in World Cup years.
"I would be (prepared to take the risk),” Horan said.
"We want to win the World Cup and yes we want our best players back playing Super Rugby, but if a player like a Samu Kerevi is away for the next five years, we would want him back, just for the World Cup year.
"It is only my personal opinion, I don’t think Rugby Australia would be that favourable to it. But I just think you need to select the best players from around the world, your best 31, it doesn’t matter where they play.”
Such a drastic change in the rules, if enacted tomorrow, would currently not change the shape of the Wallabies’ likely squad for the 2019 World Cup. Skelton, Sean McMahon, and probably Scott Fardy, would be straight back into contention but otherwise the Wallabies have done a decent job in luring players like Nic White, James O'Connor and Matt Toomua back home from overseas clubs.
Horan, who was player of the tournament in 1999, said he’d definitely take Petaia to the Rugby World Cup despite the 19-year-old having not played for six months due to a footy injury.
"I wouldn’t say it is going to be a risk selecting Jordan Petaia, he is going to be a sensational player and could be one of the great players,” Horan said.
"But we just need to take our time with him. He has been in the squad now for four or five weeks, he knows the squad and knows the environment, knows what it is going to take to play. Maybe he is used off the bench or he starts against Samoa but we definitely have to use him and definitely take him away on the 31-man squad.”
Like Petaia, Horan said it was a no-brainer for David Pocock to be picked in Friday’s 31-man squad despite not having player for six months with a calf injury.
"Dave Pocock is going to be important, just because of the players who play around him. They get inspired by him when they see him run out onto the field,” Horan said.
"The pilfers that he does, and the tackles that he makes, he just inspires people. But not only on the field, also off the field. Having someone like a David Pocock in a gold jersey, about to run out next to you is pretty important.
"I think they have managed him pretty well. I spoke to him on Sunday at the airport, he has been fully training now for ten days, two weeks. He has a few more weeks until he hopefully plays against Samoa. He is very important.
"You would want to see him probably play at least 60-70 minutes against Samoa to be confident.”
The back row balance with Pocock returning throws up tricky selection questions but Horan is a strong believer in not fielding the “Pooper” combination at a second consecutive World Cup.
"I would actually prefer David Pocock to come off the bench,” Horan said.
"In a World Cup team you need a big back row. Michael Hooper, captain, yep. Isi Naisarani has been going well. Who is the six? Has Lukhan Salakaia-Loto done enough at six to earn that spot again? It probably depends on who you are playing You might have a David Pocock on the bench and bring him on at halftime.
"My personal opinion, I don’t think we can go too deep in the competition with Hooper and Pocock in the same back-row starting. Certainly having one of them on the bench will work.”
Horan said he believed England were the most dangerous northern hemisphere team for the World Cup and that the Springboks were the team most likely to challenge the All Blacks to win the whole thing; based on their “World Cup-style of rugby”.
Horan said Australia would be a contender but needed dry tracks.
"If we get dry pitches in Tokyo and around Japan, I think we are a really good chance of going deep,” Horan said.
"Because we are not wet trackers, we don’t play well in wet conditions, we don’t adapt to it very well and I think that’s where we were beaten at the weekend, in the first 40 minutes where Aaron Smith probably outplayed the whole Wallaby team tactically.
"Go back, re-group, look at that and be prepared if there is a wet game, this is how you have to play.”
The Wallabies squad announcement for the Rugby World Cup will be streamed like on RUGBY.com.au at 9am on Friday.