Wallaby squad analysis: The lucky and the not so lucky - Green and Gold Rugby
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Wallaby squad analysis: The lucky and the not so lucky

Wallaby squad analysis: The lucky and the not so lucky

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?

The Unlucky

Matt Philip

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.

KMP-JnrWall-NSW-7380

Phillip turning out for the Aussie U20s v NSW Country in 2014

Scott Fardy

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.

Fardy directing the lineout.

Fardy directing the lineout.

Nic Stirzaker

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.

CRU030

Nick Super-Zaker

The Lucky

Jack Dempsey

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.

Jack Dempsey is a hard man to take down, just ask OJ Noa.

Jack Dempsey is a hard man to take down, just ask OJ Noa.

Richard Hardwick

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.

Richard Hardwick

Richard Hardwick- is he ready?

Lukhan Tui

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.

20161002_0957_Lukhan Tui during NRC 2016 Rd6 on Oct 2 2016 in Perth, Australia. Photo- Johan Schmidt Photography

Lukhan Tui – has come through the ranks but is this a step too far too early?

Projected Wallabies 23

 

  1. Scott Sio
  2. Stephen Moore (captain)
  3. Sekope Kepu
  4. Adam Coleman
  5. Sam Carter
  6. Scott Higginbotham
  7. Michael Hooper
  8. Lopeti Timani
  9. Will Genia
  10. Bernard Foley
  11. Sefanaia Naivalu
  12. Reece Hodge
  13. Tevita Kuridrani
  14. Dane Haylett-Petty
  15. Israel Folau
  16. Tolu Latu
  17. Allan Alaalatoa
  18. Tom Robertson
  19. Rory Arnold
  20. Jack Dempsey
  21. Nick Phipps
  22. Quade Cooper
  23. Henry Speight
  • Rebels Ruck

    Kerevi not even in the 23? That’s pretty harsh considering how he’s been playing. And Henry Speight would be unlucky not to start in place of Sefa, despite how much of a Rebels fan I am.

    • Pedro

      Yeah it’s harsh, but I think with kerevi and Kuridrani if either doesn’t start (I agree they should) then neither is versatile enough to be a bench player. I would have Hodge on the bench because he’s so versatile, but it’s tempting to start him also. Confused? I sure am.

  • Jason

    I’ve got to disagree with Hodge at 12, I think if you need Kuridrani at 13 Kerevi has got to be at 12. He and Hooper are vice captain of the Wallabies!

  • idiot savant

    Interesting piece by Ian Payten elsewhere on how Cheika is being strategic (playing mind games) with his selections. Some of those left out might be coming back in so long as they heed the message in being left out this time. If that makes any sense.

    And Hunt will play (probably 23) after what Cheika has said. If that is to be believed….

    • first time long time

      Cheika seems to make these seemingly cryptic comments about players and selections that turn out to be quite literal.
      Do you get what I’m saying?

      • idiot savant

        I don’t get much. Its the idiot in me.

  • jay-c

    If players like stirzaker feels hard done by then how low have we really sunk?
    Based on his performances the last few years he with frisby can consider themselves the worst 9s if not two of the worst players in the whole of the Aussie conference.
    He is really a terrible player and a worse captain.
    What utter garbage that he could even be mentioned among the player should worthy of wearing gold.
    Good article otherwise, but mentioning stirzacker is just offensive.
    Gordon is a player who one could argue should have been consdered.

    • joy

      Gordon has x factor and pace. His stats are impressive.

      Jake Gordon v Nic Stirzaker
      9 Games played 8
      371 Minutes played 481

      5 Tries 1
      25 Points 5
      30 Carries 39
      196 Metres 146
      10 Clean Breaks 3
      9 Defenders Beaten 9
      4 Offloads 5
      2 Try Assists 1
      281 Passes 338
      23 Open play kicks 21

      30 Tackles 42
      6 Missed Tackles 19
      83.3 Tackles Success 68.9%
      4 Turnovers Conceded 7
      0 Yellow cards 1
      0 Red cards 1

  • CF

    Pretty bitter article. The comment that stood out for me was “Cheika has opted for an alarmingly young an inconsistent back row”. Higgers and Hooper have been incredibly consistent this year in pretty average teams so I have no argument there. Hannigans workrate has been exceptional (check the replays for his backing up on breaks – always in shot). I think he has been really consistent and has had no glaring discipline issues to date. Timani is the incumbent, down on form little, but the incumbent nonetheless. Undoubtedly Dempsey looks lucky on paper but Cheika explained clearly on Tuesday that they invested in him last year and want to continue seeking a return on the investment. The reality is the back row will likely be Hooper, Higgers and Timani so I see a lot of consistency and logic there. Faddy is unlucky but as others have pointed out, there will be little surprise if he turns up for the 4N.

  • joy

    Alaaaltoa is a good prop and our best defender (97%). He has to start.
    Arnold is bigger and more aggressive than Carter and should also start.
    With these changes in the pack we don’t need a big bopper in the back row. Hanigan over Timani for more on the ball skill and energy.
    Latu or Nau are better leaders than Moore which would be a good deal in exchange for lineout or two.

    • jamie

      Timani provides energy and workrate. The man is a tackling machine.

      • Adrian

        And good for the “power game” that Cheika will play from the Scotland test onwards

      • joy

        Agree with his defense but he hasn’t shown much offensively this year. Hannigan and Higginbotham can crack good defenses and I’d like to see them operating together. This will be OK as long as our tight five stand up physically in carries and defense. Maybe I’m dreaming.

    • Adrian

      My locks are Coleman and Arnold, and backrow of Hanigan, Hooper, Timani. Tui and Higginbotham on the bench

  • Pclifto

    Stirzaker? Pfft. He’s done nothing this year and Jake Gordon hasn’t had to do much to leapfrog him…

    • jamie

      As a rebels fan, I agree. Stirzy has been shit this year

      • Huw Tindall

        Stirzy lucky to be included in this article. Genia is actually still quite young being under 30 and will probably be back in Aus before the next RWC so he is a lock. Powell is the best of the new crop. Phipps has a unique skillset among our 9s being the quickest to the breakdown and one of the fastest around the field with excellent cover defence. Plus a good arm for dispersing errant equipment off the pitch.

        • Will

          And taking down Argentinian medicos

        • Huw Tindall

          You mean resolving illegal pitch invasions

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Gold

        • AllyOz

          Phipps has a pass like a missile – unfortunately it’s a North Korean missile – some fail on launch; some explode in mid air, some are ill direct but enough of them land to be considered a real threat – just hope his missiles improve faster than Kim Jongs

    • Brumby Runner

      Has also arguably leapfrogged Phipps as well, at least at Super level.

  • MungBean

    My guess is that Hardwick was picked as a blocking move to stop him pulling on a jumper for Namibia

    • jamie

      Or because he’s just about the only pilferer/ball thief in australia other than Fardy @ 32?

      • Who?

        He’s the only regular pilferer in that squad, though Colby Fainga’a knows how to pilfer… Chris Alcock would’ve been a pretty handy addition to the squad this year, too, based on his Super form.

        • Adrian

          Latu can pilfer

        • Who?

          Maybe I should’ve been clearer. Hardwick’s the only regular pilfering loose forward.
          As it stands, we’re very likely to start the Tests without a pilfering forward in the 15, if not the 23.
          For the record, I’d have Higgers starting at 8, he’s the second best 8 in an Aussie Super team this year (behind Mafi). Timani’s incumbent, but he’s got absolutely no form or fitness. That said, I’d actually like to see them both – Timani at 6, Higgers at 8. Higgers also strengthens the lineout, being one of the more experienced and better lineout forwards in the country. Hardwick could run from the bench. He’s done it enough for the Force…

        • Adrian

          Timani had excellent form in first 3 games, before injury, and then suspension.
          Yes, Higginbotham in form, but has to fit in with Cheika’s power game

        • Who?

          I think Timani tighter and Higgers out a fraction wider would be perfect with Cheika’s power game. Hanigan’s had a good year, but he’s still green, and needs a bit more size. Higgers would fit the power game better than Hanigan.

        • John Tynan

          Yeah I agree, look where Dean Mumm runs in attack under a Cheika system. Would have to think Higgers could be more effective than Mumm.

        • Adrian

          On ability he definitely would.
          It will be up to Higginbotham to actually run the lines he’s asked to do, and not do something else

        • first time long time

          “Run the lines he’s asked to do…”
          I don’t agree Adrian, it’s this premeditated thought process that needs to go. He needs to run at holes and give the inside backs options not subscribe to a premeditated plan.
          He should be encouraged to do more of the things that got him selected not do something foreign.

        • Adrian

          He needs to be a team player as well, as do the rest of the Reds forwards who are good as individuals, but poor as a pack

        • first time long time

          Can’t say I’ve seen any evidence of him not being a team player this year.
          Hard to place much of the blame for the Reds poor performances on one of the most consistent and effective players.

        • joy

          Cheika and Higginbothem couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about running lines and it wouldn’t be the latter’s fault.

        • Adrian

          The issue I’m referring to is Higginbotham’s history with several coaches (not just Cheika) of not following the game plan generally. It happens with the Reds now, who have highly talented forwards (headed by Higginbotham) that cant play as a pack, and get themselves smashed by the Force

        • joy

          Reminds me of moments in those four power games against England last year where no one had the skill or intelligence to find a way over.

        • Braveheart81

          Hooper is leading Super Rugby for turnovers won this year.

        • first time long time

          Not true, George Smith is with 23. Hooper 18
          Rugby.com

        • Braveheart81

          You’ve linked to the Ralph Lauren website. All Out Rugby has Hooper first with 17 and George Smith third with 14. https://www.alloutrugby.com/stats/?seasonid=32&view=categories&action=players_of_type&roundno=14&type=Turnovers%20Won

        • first time long time

          Interesting isn’t it how there can be such a discrepancy in what should be an objective statistic.
          Either one site can’t count or possibly is including penalties generated at breakdown.

        • Braveheart81

          Which site are you getting your stats from?

        • first time long time

          rugby.com.au

        • joy

          Where is Hardwick in these stats (and alternative stats)?

        • first time long time

          Not in the top 5 list.

        • Braveheart81

          The stats on rugby.com.au are definitely the Opta Stats (which are SANZAAR’s stats provider. The All Out Rugby site is Vodacom Rugby’s (the competition sponsor) official site. Not sure who provides their stats.

        • joy

          Oh, two more pilferers!!

  • jamie

    Genia is 29 and still in his prime.

  • Brumby Runner

    Why do people continually get the numbers wrong on the bench front rowers? Call me pedantic, but this bloke is supposed to be a rugby journalist. For clarity, if on the bench Robertson will be 17 and Alaalatoa 18.

    On form though, I do think Alaalatoa will start at THP at least for the first test.

    • Adrian

      Kepu is in form as well as Alaalatoa. It’s possible Alaalatoa will play LHP v Scotland, as he’s experienced at LH.

      • Who?

        I really think that the option at Test level taken by Cheika and Ledesma with AA and Robbo is right. Robbo’s too small to play THP at Test level, arguably even at Super level. And Ala’alatoa’s done very well at THP. Their body types are best suited to those positions.
        I don’t see any value in confusing their techniques, especially in an age where we have four props in the 23, and even if a prop is qualified to play on the opposite side, if they’re specified as playing one side in the team sheet, there is no obligation to retain contested scrums if they are required to play the other side. Because it’s rarely advantageous to continue contesting scrums with props in their less familiar position. Better to have Kepu and Ala’alatoa battling for that starting jersey, and leave Robbo chasing Sio. And fighting off Smith.

      • Brumby Runner

        In the absence of a catastrophic injury toll to the LHPs, that will not happen. The squad has 2 fit LHs and 2 fit THs. No coach would start with the 2 THs and have the 2 LHs on the bench.

        • Adrian

          Yes and no. Robertson is also a TH

  • Adrian

    My No1 team v Scotland, though I’d prefer it was v Fiji
    Alaalatoa
    Moore (because he’s captain only)
    Kepu
    Coleman
    Arnold
    Hanigan
    Hooper
    Timani
    Genia
    Foley
    Speight
    Kerevi
    Kurandrani
    DHP
    Folau
    TPN
    Sio
    Robertson
    Tui
    Higginbotham
    Phipps
    Cooper
    Hunt

    Hodge the unlucky one!

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Mate Cheika has snubbed Fardy for ages. He consistently picked Mumm over him last year despite being the most innefective 6 Australia has ever produced. Not sure what Fardy has done or said to Cheika but whatever it is it’s keeping him out of the team.

    • Braveheart81

      That’s not really a reflection of form last year where Fardy was poor for much of the season and Mumm performed well, particularly against England which boosted him ahead of Fardy.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Mate I’d argue no one performed “well” against England. I’d also argue that Mumm has never played well at 6. He has played quite well at lock but IMO never at 6

      • Brumby Runner

        “Mumm” performed well – surely a contradiction in terms.

  • Chinese Dave

    I have a humble request. Can we please not make “four nations” a thing? It’s so much better when it’s the Rugby Championship, and while a bit arrogant (a la World Series when it’s only US and Canada teams), it is, barring the single England WC win, also true.

  • Brendan Hume

    I thought Alcock has been good and probably unlucky, although if Hooper gets selected to start I think Butler is a really good bench option offering coverage for the entire back row. If you don’t pick Rob Simmons, I’m not sure you can pick Sam Carter. Arnold is a much more imposing lock, and I’d throw Tui into the 23. Latu is probably better than Moore at the moment, and I’d probably have TPN starting with Latu on the bench.

    • Brumby Runner

      Yes, Alcock has been good but I don’t think is a potential Wallaby. Would rather have Colby as a fetcher if one is required.

      Carter has been playing much better than Simmons this year (and imo for many years – but that’s another discussion). ATM Carter is a desrved bench player. I expect Tui to be there in time.

      Doesn’t really matter where Moore, TPN and Latu fit into the pecking order, Moore is Captain and will start.

  • Bernie Chan

    “…with Nick Frisby falling off the face of the rugby earth…”! Gold….. Can’t recall someone falling so far and fast…Frisby was fantastic as Genia’s understudy at the Reds, earned a Spring Tour spot and now can’t secure a starting spot at the struggling Reds. Frisby needs to get back to his basics…pass or run…and stop box kicking (his box kicks are rubbish anyway…) and giving away possession. For Frisby to even on the bench suggests Moses Sorovi might still be carrying an injury…

    • joy

      In the last match against the Force Frisby took the control of the game away from Cooper. Then the wheels came off.

      • Bernie Chan

        Sure seems to be trying to do to much…”overplaying” rather than “underplaying his hand”…

  • Jack

    22 lineout takes, 13 games into a season..? And top 20 for steals..? I’m sure he’s great but these stats are pretty unremarkable…

  • Bernie Chan

    Sure hope the “set pieces” work…seems a bit thin on props and locks that scrummage well…Against Fiji that may not be such an issue, but against the others….our set piece will be targeted.

  • Bernie Chan

    Add Rob Horne to the top of the “lucky” column. Thought Cheika was not going to select players who had signed to go overseas…not withstanding Horne’s less than stellar season….

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Sports journalist based in Sydney, covering everything from Rugby to NFL and anything in between. Catch me at Concord Oval every Saturday managing the media for the mighty Pirates

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