It was a significantly more successful Super Rugby season for Australia’s teams.
Encapsulated by the sporadic Waratahs managing a quarter-final victory over the Highlanders before getting mauled by the Lions. So who will be the men to attempt what hasn’t been achieved in 15 years?
The front row
Australians seem likely to see the return of Tatafu Polota-Nau due to the 60 cap rule, returning from a stint overseas. Queensland Red Brandon Paenga-Amosa appears the favourite to back him up at hooker given the current lack of depth, although Damien Fitzpatrick of the Waratahs had a strong super rugby season and Tolu Latu seems to be a favourite of Chieka.
Experienced pair Scott Sio at loose-head and Sekope Kepu at tight-head will most likely complete the front row. Whilst the “Tongan Thor” Taniela Tupou had a strong Ireland series, it seems like Cheika values him off the bench as an impact player. As such, the experienced heads of Sio and Kepu will most likely start. One of Tom Robertson or Allan Ala’alatoa should join Tupou on the bench.
One of the first names on the team sheet is captain-in-waiting Adam Coleman, who will surely start at lock. Joining Coleman will likely be young Izack Rodda with old head Rob Simmons on the bench. Simmons holds significant experience and years of hurt losing to the All Blacks. This should see him hold his place over Brumbies lock Rory Arnold.
Current skipper Michael Hooper is expected to be fit for the game, despite missing the Super Rugby semi-final due to a hamstring injury. Fellow openside and Australian rugby legend David Pocock will form two-thirds of the back row. The final position seems to be a head-to-head duel between impressive young Red Caleb Timu and Crusader Pete Samu, with Timu likely to get the nod due to him spending more time in the Wallabies set-up. While I expect Samu to usurp Timu’s place later in the Rugby Championship, it seems as though he will come off the bench with enforcer Lukhan Tui.
The evergreen Will Genia appears a lock for the scrum-half position, with no real challengers to his throne. Nick Phipps should continue on as his backup for yet another year. Any of Joe Powell, Jake Gordon and Michael Ruru could oust Phipps however, having had good Super Rugby seasons.
It is at fly-half where it gets interesting. Whilst Bernard Foley appeared to hold a monopoly on the 10 jersey, Matt Toomua’s return from Leicester and performance in the trial game appears to have placed him in the mix. However, Foley still should start in the halves.
Australia should line up with Kurtley Beale, arguably Australia’s most important player, at inside centre. Injuries have struck down ball-carrying centres Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani.
This offers the versatile Reece Hodge a chance to secure a starting position at outside centre. While Toomua, Curtis Rona or even West Australian Billy Meakes are in the mix here, Hodge appears to be the one. As such, one of Toomua, Rona or Meakes should hold the remaining reserve back position. At this stage, Toomua seems the most likely given his versatility and skill.
The outside backs
Australia’s much-improved back three of 2017 appear to be the likely starters; NRL converts Koroibete and Folau alongside Dane Haylett-Petty. In the frame also are Sefa Naivalu as well as young backs Jordan Petaia and Jack Maddocks.
However, Bernard Foley has endorsed Israel Folau to fill the outside centre role as he has done at times for the Waratahs. If this occurs, one of Haylett-Petty, Toomua or young Tom Banks would move to fullback in Folau’s stead.
I think naturally he [israel folau] could be a really good long term 13 – Bernard foley
Maintaining Australia’s momentum
Whilst it may not match the star-studded All Blacks on paper, the Wallabies do appear improved this year. It is absolutely key that Australia poses a challenge to the All Blacks this year to maintain Australian Rugby’s current momentum.
Author: David Lind
I live in Perth, Australia, but am a born and bred Kiwi. I generally spend my time between studies and running the drinks for at my cricket club. My articles on the 1014 allow me to let out my rugby feelings online rather than at my mates.