Pick'n Go
Why two Wallaby 7s might not be so radical
Sam Bruce
May 18, 2015
David Pocock has made an exceptional return from injury and is a certain inclusion in the Wallabies squad © Getty Images

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has already stated there is room for just two openside flankers in his Rugby World Cup squad, meaning a number of talented back-rowers will be left at home later this year.

The common belief is that, at the moment, Michael Hooper and David Pocock will be the players heading to England despite the sensational form of both Liam Gill and Matt Hodgson. But it certainly wouldn't be a total surprise should Cheika have a change of heart and add an extra openside to the Qantas manifest; in fact it is just the sort of crazy move the Wallabies boss would pull to go against the grain. Then it would be left to him to consider playing two opensides in the same run-on XV, a decision that would be considered far more radical, and highly risky.

Australia last played with two No.7s in the same side under Eddie Jones, with Phil Waugh and George Smith combining in the back-row. It was largely the same situation the Wallabies face now, save for the fact they have four Test-quality opensides rather than two.

So why shouldn't Cheika consider it? We can wheel out the same old excuses such as the loss of a lineout jumper, ball-runner and probably a few newtons of force at the scrum. The latter looks to be the biggest concern, particularly after the Wallabies struggled against a dominant England eight at Twickenham, the site of their two key pool games against England and Wales, in November last year.

The common belief, too, is that the eighth edition of the Rugby World Cup will likely descend into an aerial raid not seen in Britain since the Blitz, with teams set to employ the sort of tactics that put fans to sleep and have wingers and full-backs turning skyward for a large chunk of the 80 minutes. The rolling maul will also be sighted frequently as will our discussions about its legality.

Australia's captain Matt Hodgson stretches for the tryline, Barbarians v Australia, Twickenham, London, November 1, 2014
Matt Hodgson, alongside Liam Gill, remain contenders for a Wallabies spot © Getty Images

But that doesn't sound like Michael Cheika. There is a real chance for the Wallabies to play proactive rugby under Cheika, and the selection of two No.7s will certainly force a tactical rethink from their opposition.

And looking at the arguments against the selection of dual opensides, it really is just the lack of extra weight at the scrum that concerns. David Pocock has shown for the Brumbies he is a more than capable line-out jumper while Michael Hooper has already proven his quality as a ball-runner at Twickenham. And then you could call on Gill or Hodgson from the bench. The breakdown threat would be constant throughout 80 minutes, forcing opposition teams to throw more numbers at it and limiting their options in attack.

The other key factor to consider is that Australia doesn't have the quality of player at No.6 and No.8 that the All Blacks and Springboks boast; there is no Kieran Read or Duane Vermeulen, no Schalk Burger or Jerome Kaino. The big question for Cheika would be: who would best complement two No.7s from a list that includes Wycliff Palu, Scott Fardy, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Scott Higginbotham and others.

Certainly Alan Jones is forthright in his belief that Cheika has the situation in mind, telling Greg Growden in an exclusive feature-length interview for ESPN that "we pick our best eight players [in the forwards] … you telling me the bloke who plays openside breakaway can't pay blindside breakaway".

It's certainly not a decision to be made on a whim, but the Rugby Championship will afford Cheika the opportunity to trial the likes of Pocock, Hooper, Gill and even Hodgson in tandem. If it doesn't work against the All Blacks, Springboks or Pumas then it doesn't make the playbook for the World Cup.

But surely playing to your strengths is one of the oldest ideas in sport. It just so happens Australia has more quality at No.7 than at any other position, and the situation is screaming for some proactive thinking.

Michael Hooper has proven he has a strong running game © Getty Images
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