The Growden Report
Cheika's Wallabies candidates are well off the pace
Greg Growden
June 29, 2015
Waratahs 17-35 Highlanders (Australia only)

As the last Australian teams departed the Super Rugby tournament with little more than a feeble grunt on the weekend, it is time to look at far more important matters.

Such as will the Wallabies be competitive in the upcoming internationals against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina? Let's just say that while Michael Cheika will be depressed with how his Waratahs opted not to show up for their home semi-final, at least it gives him more time to prepare the national team for several tough months.

And Cheika needs all the time he can get, because, compared to the speed, efficiency and talent set of the New Zealanders in particular, the Australian contingent looks off the pace. And in some crucial positions, the calibre of the candidates chasing Test spots is embarrassingly poor. There are only a few positions where there is a bleedingly obvious candidate - such as Israel Folau at fullback and Tevita Kuridrani at No 13. Elsewhere it is often a case of picking the best out of a pretty underwhelming lot.

Hurricanes 29-9 Brumbies (Australia only)
%]

That was reinforced on the weekend, when their New Zealand opponents easily showed up several supposedly important Wallabies, who are assumed to be at the core of the World Cup campaign. One of the areas of greatest concern is the halves - with the Highlanders having little problem in exposing Waratahs half-back Nick Phipps and five-eighth Bernard Foley, who both flustered badly under pressure on Saturday night.

The assumption is that Phipps and Foley will be the Test halves, and I can guarantee you that combination won't have anyone in New Zealand quivering. Phipps has been off his game for some time, with his passing deteriorating in recent rounds, while Foley is too erratic, and has struggled all season to produce two good performances in a row. Under pressure, Foley is making too many mistakes. Australia require a far more consistent No.10 than Foley at the World Cup - otherwise even making the quarter-finals will be a bridge too far.

The lock area is as big a worry. Australian Rugby was once renowned for producing world quality lock after lock. Not at the moment, which is shown by possibly the best two being the Waratahs combination of Dave Dennis and Will Skelton. And on Saturday night, the Waratahs lineout was a debacle, losing own throw after own throw. The Wallabies selectors will probably opt for the experienced Queensland pairing of Rob Simmons and James Horwill - but considering how lacklustre they were during the Super Rugby season - it would be a situation of handing out jerseys to undeserving players.

Israel Folau is one of the few Wallabies certainties © Getty Images
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While there is a bit of depth in the back-row, the quandary is the combination. The two-standout players have been openside flankers David Pocock and Michael Hooper, and it seems criminal if one of them is not used to their full capabilities during the international season, and is instead only a reserve. Even though there are many theorists out there who hate the idea of playing two opensides, with one moving across to the blindside, it is not such a crazy option if the No 6 is Pocock. The argument is that your lineout is weakened. But haven't we seen both Pocock and Hooper used as lineout jumpers this year? That has appeared to work.

While the form No.8 during the Super Rugby season was Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham, he has often failed to go the next step at Test level, and so Ben McCalman would be the better bet to lock the scrum. While there are many Wycliff Palu supporters, his form has for some time been on the wane. Palu's best playing days are past him.

The Brumbies had no answer to the constant waves of Hurricanes attacks © Getty Images
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Australia's front-row is not exactly frightening, and it may even be the time for experimentation by giving Rebels prop Paul Alo-Emile a chance. A Test against either the Springboks or Pumas would be the way to groom him to see whether he is a serious World Cup candidate.

Elsewhere Rob Horne and Joe Tomane have been the form wingers, while Matt Toomua will provide the required authority and assurance in the midfield.

All up, an okay Wallaby lineup, but nothing special.

A Wallabies lineup:

15: Israel Folau (Waratahs) 14: Rob Horne (Waratahs) 13: Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) 12: Matt Toomua (Brumbies) 11: Joe Tomane (Brumbies) 10: Quade Cooper (Reds) (even if on one arm, one leg, one shoulder or whatever) 9: Will Genia (Reds) 8: Ben McCalman (Force) 7: Michael Hooper (Waratahs) (capt) 6: David Pocock (Brumbies) 5: Dave Dennis (Waratahs) 4: Will Skelton (Waratahs) 3: Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) 2: Stephen Moore (Brumbies) 1: Scott Sio (Brumbies)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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