Pick'n Go:
Cheika's No.7 headache can only be a good thing
Sam Bruce
April 27, 2015
David Pocock's strength over the breakdown is almost unmatchable © Getty Images

The Australian Rugby Union's decision to loosen eligibility restrictions for overseas-based players will seemingly give Matt Giteau's Test career a second coming, but it will have only increased the size of Michael Cheika's headache when he starts to think about No.7: if the Wallabies coach has anything less than a brain-splitting migraine after the weekend's Super Rugby action, it will be one giant surprise; not only has the great George Smith been afforded the chance at a third coming but the trio of locally based flankers are playing the house down.

David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill would walk into any other back-row - New Zealand aside - but, as its stands one - or even two if Smith is favoured - will miss Rugby World Cup selection after Cheika confirmed on Friday that he would take only two specialist No.7s to England. Hence he must work out exactly what he wants in an openside flanker.

Each player offers something different in the role, and just how Cheika sees his side playing at Rugby World Cup will go a long way to deciding who boards the Qantas bird to London.

Lyon's flanker George Smith (L) takes on Bayonne's Benjamin Macome, Bayonne v Lyon, Top 14, Bayonne, January 10, 2015
George Smith could make a huge return for the Wallabies © Getty Images

If that's to follow the northern trend, and a somewhat surprising regularity of Super Rugby, then David Pocock could be mauling his way to a try-scoring frenzy in Britain. On Friday night in Canberra, the Brumbies No.7 scored the easiest hat-trick you're ever likely to see. Three perfectly executed rolling mauls finished in exactly the same fashion as the former Wallabies skipper bound himself to the tail end of the maul and steered the ship with precision.

But it wasn't just Pocock's work on the lineout drive that impressed; he was again an immovable object at the breakdown. The 27-year-old back-rower was a threat over the ball throughout the 80 minutes, and he foiled the Highlanders attack on more than one occasion with a series of superb pilfers. If Pocock is given the opportunity establish a secure base there are very few players on the planet capable of shifting him.

On Saturday night in Sydney, the incumbent Wallabies No.7 went to work at ANZ Stadium and immediately showed what he has to offer. Michael Hooper plays with far more freedom than Pocock, and his years of beach-sprinting have provided him with the speed to cut through holes and set up tries the like of which he laid on for Adam Ashley-Cooper. He may not have the strength of Pocock over the ball, but there is no way the Brumbies star will fire through the gap like Hooper did on Saturday night.

The weekend's Anzac weekend of action finished with the Reds, and the chance to see the third of the locally based contenders in Liam Gill. The Reds No.7, at this stage, looks like being the unlucky one to miss a ticket to England; but it's through no fault his own.

Liam Gill of the Queensland Reds is taken down by the Bulls' defence, Bulls v Reds, Super Rugby, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, April 11, 2015
Liam Gill looks most likely to miss out on a place in the Wallabies squad © Getty Images

Gill was at his workmanlike best against the Hurricanes as he grabbed a five-pointer and generally made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown throughout the 80 minutes. His second-half try was ultimately to little avail but the manner in which he handled once, then quickly got back to his feet for a second touch in quick succession, was brilliant. It was a classic piece of Sevens play. Gill's only blemish was another yellow card; the result of poor timing and the cheeky TJ Perenara.

So how does Cheika go about making his decision? One which won't be made any easier by the fact both Hooper and Pocock have captained the Wallabies in recent times. Is there cause to take on a "horses for courses" attitude and pick the man best suited to the opposition strengths and weaknesses? Pocock to take on the robust Springboks pack while Hooper gets the nod to battle Richie McCaw or Sam Cane?

And where does that leave Smith? Few will argue against his inclusion, but Cheika noted pointedly on Friday that he had not seen the veteran Australian playing for Lyon in France this season and for now it looks as though Giteau is more likely to be the first overseas-based Aussie to wear gold.

Whatever the case, another round of Super Rugby like that just gone will only make Cheika's decision more difficult, especially with Hopoer and Pocock set to battle it out in Friday night's clash. Australia has an embarrassment of riches at No.7, and the change in ARU player policy has only increased that; and that can only be a good thing.

Michael Hooper's speed and agility can only be a good thing for the Wallabies © Getty Images
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