Australia
How to distill a World Cup cycle into four Tests?
ESPN Staff
July 13, 2015
Israel Folau is one of perhaps only two Australia players certain of selection © Getty Images
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Wallabies Squad

  • Rory Arnold, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Scott Fardy, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Matt Giteau, Scott Higginbotham, Greg Holmes, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Tevita Kuridrani, Stephen Moore, Drew Mitchell, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Dean Mumm, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Matt Toomua, Joe Tomane.

Michael Cheika will for the first time answer publicly the biggest question in Australian rugby, and one of the biggest questions in world rugby, on Thursday, when he names his first Test squad of the Rugby World Cup year. Rarely has there been such a lack of certainty about the line-up, with ESPN columnist Greg Growden not alone in suggesting that Australia, the nation if not Cheika, a little more than two months before the World Cup kicks off, "hasn't got much of an idea who will fill 13 of the 15 positions".

"As for working out who is going to be the Test No.9 and 10 - two of the most crucial positions - good luck," Growden wrote in The Growden Report on Monday.

"In most seasons, you can come pretty close to choosing the bulk of the Test team - especially the halves. Not this year. Only Israel Folau at fullback and Stephen Moore at hooker - due to him being announced as the Test captain - appear to be selection certainties."

Such is the state of affairs when you're on your third Test coach in two years, and you're coming off a disappointing 2014 tour of Europe and a Super Rugby campaign in which the Australian franchises generally failed to deliver even though the Waratahs and Brumbies made the semi-finals and the Rebels produced the best campaign in their history.

Cheika, then, seems to be in the process of distilling a four-year World Cup cycle into five Tests against South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand before naming his squad for the tournament and putting the players to task against the United States in their final warm-up in Chicago.

Those Tests not only must show Cheika which players and combinations he should name for the tournament, but also the game plan he and Stephen Larkham must develop for the Wallabies to have their best possible chance in England and Wales. Does Cheika elect for a squad built primarily around the forwards- and territory-based game plan we all generally expect to dominate and win the World Cup? Or does he build a squad to play to Australia's undoubted strengths in the back-row and backline? Whatever, the task is further confused by the recall of Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell and by the selection of x rookies in his 31-man squad for the Tests against South Africa and Argentina.

Who would you select for the Wallabies against the Springboks on Saturday and Argentina the weekend after? What game plan would you like to see the Wallabies implement?

We've given you a few ideas below to start the thought process.

Sam Bruce

I've gone for Giteau at No.12, purely because of the need to see just what he can do. With Giteau at 12, I feel we need a more direct No.10 and that comes in the shape of Matt Toomua; though I acknowledge Cheika isn't really considering him as a fly-half.

It's the same with the selection of Pocock and Hooper in the back-row; I just want to see if this can work. We need to come up with a game plan that makes up for a lack of size and physicality up front and perhaps speed is the answer. That selection has forced Will Skelton to my bench, purely from a lineout perspective, and I'm keen to see what Rory Arnold has to offer as well.

Israel Folau; Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Matt Toomua, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock; Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio.

Ruck'n Maul: 'Astounded' Horwill and Simmons selected
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Greg Growden

If the Wallabies don't try some selection gambles now, which could involve a bit of pain, they will not deserve our sympathy later in the year. Read The Growden Report for Greg's full thoughts on his selection.

Israel Folau; Rob Horne, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Will Skelton, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.

Brett McKay

Combinations are my theme. As good a season as Joe Tomane finished with, I think Adam Ashley-Cooper's combination with Israel Folau aids his cause. Quade Cooper is the best option at 10 for me - plus the combo with Will Genia - and both Matt Toomua or Matt Giteau can then do the attack-straightening/second playmaker job from 12. And I want to see how Giteau goes too, so he's in. Let's see how Mitchell goes, too, and extra combination with Giteau will also be useful.

In the pack, I want harder-working flankers in David Pocock and the extra lineout ability of Scott Fardy to take on the Boks head-on. That opens up No.8 for Scott Higginbotham to play with his running game, and again, another lineout option. I'm sure Cheika wants to go with Will Skelton and Rory Arnold at some point, but against the Boks, I want more scrum ability from behind so Rob Simmons comes in. I could quite easily have left Sam's front row, but again the combination of Holmes and Slipper just edges them ahead, for mine.

Isarel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Scott Fardy; Rob Simmons, Rory Arnold; Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.

George Gregan names his Wallabies team
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Brittany Mitchell

I've chosen my backline around the strong combination of Israel Foalu, Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper developed through the past two seasons, season and added Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell because I'm a big fan of both players and would love to see how they both go. I think Will Genia and Quade Cooper are the best halves combo, and Cooper's flair will work well with a more "stable" playmaker in Giteau.

I've chosen both Hooper and Pocock in the back-row because I think this is an option we have to try before the World Cup, Hooper's speed and Pocock's strength over the ball should be used, preferably at the same time. While I also want to see what Rory Arnold can do alongside Will Skelton and Ben McCalman.

Israel Folau; Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Will Skelton; Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore, James Slipper.

Andy Withers

I'd start both rookies, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Rory Arnold, and returned exiles Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Greg Holmes as their selection in the squad seems meaningless if they do not play from the whistle; we need to see what they can do, and what better place than in a home citadel against strong opponents. We probably need also to see what Dean Mumm offers after his startling selection, but right now I see him as nothing other than a bench / squad player so no place in XV. We do need to see if we can shoehorn both exceptional opensides into the starting side, so I've picked Pocock at six and Hooper at seven. And I've got at the back of my mind the first and third performances at home to an admittedly poor France side, the home performances against New Zealand and South Africa, and the fact that Australia beat wales (again) and pushed Ireland last November.

Israel Folau; Taqele Naiyaravoro, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons; Greg Holmes, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio.

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