Michael Cheika named his squad last week following Australia’s Bledslow cup lost to New Zealand in Eden Park.
Cheika was later blasted by respected veteran journalist Greg Gowden for making six substantial changes to the side that beat the All Blacks in Sydney, including the strange choices of making a six to two forwards to backs split, with Nick White being the only specialist scrumhalf in the side, and Quade Cooper who played very little rugby last season starting at ten, while Matt Toomua dropped to inside centre and the mercurial Matt Giteau was benched.
However many veteran pundits agreed that Cheika was testing out several experienced players to see if they were in form for the up-coming World Cup. So with a clinical eye here are the winners and losers of Australia’s World Cup selection.
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First of all the captain and vice captains, Stephen Moore will continue in his role as Australian skipper following a return to fitness and sublime season from the veteran hooker with stand in captain Michael Hooper and indispensable Adam Ashley-Cooper named as joint vice captains.
The Australian tight five have had a very strong rugby championship, and there were few surprises with who was picked with Kepu clearly being the first choice tight head along with Moore, Scott Sio and James Slipper will both be going to the World Cup and it will be interesting to see if Cheika will keep Sio who has been performing well at the set piece, or if Slipper will regain the number one jersey which may weaken a surprisingly solid Australian scrum.
A fairy-tale return to international rugby for Greg Holmes should also be noted, with the Reds tighthead making a strong return to the international stage after a long layoff from rugby. Rebels prop Toby Smith will also be feeling proud, being the only uncapped player in the squad.
Hooker cover holds no surprises with Polota’Nau being second choice, though James Hanson has been retained for the USA match in Chicago. The second row sees a welcome return for the athletic Dean Mumm, and Irish exile Kane Douglas, however Waratahs captain Dave Dennis and former International captain James Horwill have been deemed surplus to requirements despite both finding a good vein of form in the latter part of last season.
The backrow does see some interesting choices with Scott Higginbotham being left out in favour of an off pace Wycliff Palu. The likely starting backrow look to be, Fardy, Hooper and Pocock, who performed a demolition of the New Zealand break down when they started together in the Championship final, this combination also brings the added bonus of two line out jumpers in Pocock and Fardy, which would allow Cheika to start Will Skelton without limiting his line out. Ben McCalman is the likely bench cover with a strong season behind him, rookie Shaun McMahon takes the final backrow place.
Moving to the backs we come to the one of the more controversial choice of the squad with Nick White being dropped despite a good last season and a strong championship performance, in favour of veteran Will Genia who has had his injury and form problems recently.
What makes this decision controversial is that Genia and Phipps offer very similar styles at scrumhalf, while White offers something a little different with his goal and place kicking abilities, although there have been questions over his ability to handle pressure.
Genia admitted to feeling embarrassed in being picked ahead of White over the weekend. Australia have a veritable glut of flyhalf options going to the World Cup, with Toomua, Cooper, Giteau, Foley and Beale all going with Lealiifano being taken to America as well. All of these players also cover centre and some cover fullback as well, though Cooper might be feeling very fortunate, after missing a lot of rugby recently and having a poor run and a spell in the bin at Eden Park.
However the main question over the fly-half/inside centre options is who will be goal kicking, with all of the players having their issues in front of the sticks. Cooper if he starts has found a seam of form at goal, with Giteau, Beale and Foley also having been used over the course of the championship at one point.
Foley was almost metronomic with the boot during the autumn internationals, and Cheika will be hoping he can recover that form for the world cup. Kuridrani is the only specialist centre on the roster, with Toomua, Giteau, Beale, Horne and Ashley-Cooper all comfortable there.
Adam Ashley-Cooper is almost guaranteed to be playing on one wing with Tomane or Drew Mitchel likely to fill the other. Israel Folau is the only specialist fullback taken to the world cup with Ashley-Cooper and Beale Able to cover.
Forwards: S Moore, T Polota-Nau, G Holmes, S Kepu, S Sio, J Slipper, T Smith, K Douglas, D Mumm, R Simmons, W Skelton, S Fardy, M Hooper, B McCalman, S McMahon, W Palu, D Pocock.
Backs: W Genia, N Phipps, Q Cooper, B Foley, K Beale, M Giteau, M Toomua, A Ashley-Cooper, I Folau, R Horne, D Mitchell, H Speight, J Tomane, T Kuridrani.