The Wallabies squad for the June test window was released this week, with one or two questionable inclusions gaining entry over a couple of notable omissions. Ultimately, it was a very “Cheika” squad, geared highly towards attack, but still generally pleasing most in the highly disgruntled Australian rugby community.
Either way, as we always do, let’s pick some holes in this baby. Who is checking their mailbox assuming their letter from Hogwarts is still on the way, and who was every so slightly lucky to be selected?
Goodness gracious, as if we hadn’t whacked the poor Western Force around enough this year? When Wallaby lock Adam Coleman went down against the Queensland Reds in the early rounds, big New South Welshman Matt Philip was dropped into the cauldron after just 3 appearances off the bench in 2016.
Philip has been a revelation for the Force ever since, with his 22 lineout takes the most at the club. He is also 2nd in offloads, and in lineout steals, which he ranks in the top 20 in the competition for. But as strong as Philips’ set piece has been, it’s his proactivity around the ground that many thought would win him a Wallaby invite. His double-digit tackle count against the Crusaders shows his effectiveness in defence when it is asked of him.
His magnum opus thus far was against the Blues in Auckland, where he made 84 metres off 13 carries in a stunning display against top quality opposition, certainly the sort of thing that gets you a look in around this time of year. Philips’ highlight of the game came later in the contest, when he burst into space, stepping past a Blues defender, and coolly delivering the ball to Dane Haylett-Petty, who finished off his work.
Having shown an exceptionally well-rounded game for a 23 year old, the hulking second rower can count himself dearly unlucky to not get a phone call from Michael Cheika this week.
How the ACT Brumbies veteran was overlooked, I will never know. It seems that if Scott Fardy is not putting on a big bear hug of a tackle, he is the man standing over the ball attempting to win it. First at his club and fourth in the competition for pilfers, Fardy is also one of the Brumbies’ best in the defensive line.
One way I can imagine the 32-year old missed out is that he has signed for Leinster next season, persuading Cheika to usher in some new blood in the back row, which he has certainly done so. Or perhaps leaving old players like Scott Fardy is the idea.
Cheika has opted for an alarmingly young an inconsistent back row, potentially in order to ease them into international footy, conversely giving players such as Fardy the rest needed to cope with a tough Four Nations. Either way, I’d be surprised if there’s not at least one time in June when Wallabies fans pine for the services of the evergreen Brumbies blindside.
However, if we’re playing by the above logic, Nic Stirzaker has plenty to grumble about. Whilst Stirzaker has largely paled in comparison to some of the legendary scrumhalves he was likened to, the Melbourne Rebels captain has done a decent job under difficult circumstances this year.
Standing out in derbies against the Brumbies and NSW Waratahs, at his best, Stirzaker is an intelligent running halfback, adept at reading the defence and well aware of whether a kick, run or pass is required. Unfortunately, we have not seen enough of the nippy, thinking mans’ halfback this year. He’s been far from the only Rebel to disappoint, but dropping him the weight of captaincy was probably a bridge to far at this stage of his career.
So what is Stirzaker doing here, you might ask? Well, with Nick Frisby falling off the face of the rugby earth, Stirzaker can probably fairly assume himself the next scrumhalf in the Wallaby line. Using the same logic applied above to Scott Fardys’ axing, it’s fair to assume that, for the June tests, we probably don’t need to see 32-year-old Will Genia until The Rugby Championship.
A scrumhalf threesome of Nick Phipps (28), Joe Powell (23) and Nick Stirzaker (25) makes far more sense to me for these upcoming tests, and that’s why the Rebels chief can feel a little hard done by.
Fightin’ Jack Dempsey is a lucky boy in more ways than one. Early in the season, it looked as if his year may be over altogether, stretchered off with a leg splint against the Brumbies.
Having not yet even returned to Super Rugby, Dempsey was subsequently added to the Wallabies squad after one return match in the Shute Shield for Gordon. Granted, Dempsey toured with Australia last year after a strong campaign, and is rated highly as a replacement for Scott Fardy, but given the circumstances, and healthy depth in the back row, this is a bit rich.
Another back row shocker, Richard Hardwick was not exactly on Wallaby watch, having bounced between the bench and the starting lineup this year for the Western Force.
In 6 starts and 6 replacement runs this year, Hardwick has not set the turf ablaze, but he has been strong at the breakdown, and carries hard, if not also loosely (3rd at the club for handling errors). The picture I’m attempting to paint here is that it would be hard pressed to suggest Hardwick is absolutely ready for the rigors of international rugby, after not even having amassed 10 starts in domestic footy.
Another man lucky at the quality of opponent coming Down Under this year.
Likened to Brad Thorn, Lukhan Tui is a strong carrier and is an effective second option in the lineout, but a Wallaby? Hardly!
I respect the concept of a bolter, but to quality as such, there surely needs to be some sort of basis in fact. Tui is a 20 year old having an “encouraging” year in a fairly flat Reds team. Other locks that can fairly consider themselves snubbed in favour of the 20 year old include Blake Enever, David McDuling, Richie Arnold and of course Matt Philip, all players who have at least stood out in a number of games this year.
But ever the “idealist”, Michael Cheuika offered us this when explaining his selection of the former rugby league prospect from western Sydney:
“He’s raw but I like the impact he makes, the way he likes to be in the battle, popping up for tries and not minding the rough stuff.”
One might say he’s so raw he’s still mooing. Best of luck to Tui – he does indeed have the chops to be a fine rugby player. But make no mistake – with some of the other locking options available, Lukhan got lucky.
Projected Wallabies 23
- Scott Sio
- Stephen Moore (captain)
- Sekope Kepu
- Adam Coleman
- Sam Carter
- Scott Higginbotham
- Michael Hooper
- Lopeti Timani
- Will Genia
- Bernard Foley
- Sefanaia Naivalu
- Reece Hodge
- Tevita Kuridrani
- Dane Haylett-Petty
- Israel Folau
- Tolu Latu
- Allan Alaalatoa
- Tom Robertson
- Rory Arnold
- Jack Dempsey
- Nick Phipps
- Quade Cooper
- Henry Speight