Australia’s vice-captain Michael Hooper has been banned for a dangerous challenge on England fullback Mike Brown.
This leaves Australia with an interesting choice, who do they bring in to cover for the absent openside?
One of the keys to Australia’s recent success has been the synergy of their two openside flankers, the hard running, abrasive Hooper and the dynamic and powerful David Pocock who has been playing at number eight. They are both excellent at jackelling and forcing turnovers.
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Without Hooper Australia will need to decide what style they want to play in the backrow.
The easiest call would be to move David Pocock back to the openside flank and bring in Ben McCalman at number eight.
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McCalman made the most metres in the super fifteen last season, despite Western Force having a disappointing campaign. He is also an experienced international who is unlikely to crack under pressure and a specialist number eight.
McCalman can also jump in the line out and picked up two tries in his World Cup outing against Uruguay, where he played blindside and number eight. He is good with the ball in hand and runs good support lines.
This would be a balanced classic backrow.
Faith in the Young
Sean McMahon is only 21-years-old but has already got five international caps. He is capable of playing all across the back row but while he has most of his experience at blindside flanker, McMahon has all the attributes of a good openside. He started at openside against Uruguay and was strong at the breakdown and picked up two tries.
McMahon is less of a line out option at six foot one than McCalman and is a little unproven, but he could start at seven or eight and link with Pocock to restore the two openside synergy that has been so strong for Australia.
This would be closest to the backrow Cheika has favored.
Moving players around
A third slightly out of the box option would be to bring Dean Mumm into the starting fifteen. Mumm is more usually a second row although he has a turn of pace over fifty meters that wouldn’t shame a winger.
Mumm has been utilised as a flanker on several occasions including when he captained Australia against Uruguay and moved to blindside flanker after Wycliff Palu was injured, he also picked up one try against the World Cup minnows.
Mumm is a good line-out jumper and a dynamic ball carrier. He is also very experienced at leading having captained Exeter chiefs and Australia, which could come in handy for his team since vice-captain Hooper is out of the picture.
This isn’t to say Australia lack for leaders. Adam Ashley-Cooper is also vice-captain and Stephen Moore is an excellent captain who leads by example, along with this Will Genia and David Pocock have also captained previously, but Mumm is an excellent leader of men and a proven international.
He is also the strongest line out jumper of the three options at six foot five, weighing in at 17 and a half stone (two stone heavier than McMahon and half a stone heavier than McCalman) and is excellent at ball carrying and link player.
It would mean, however, selecting one of Mumm, Scott or Fardy at number eight with Pocock going to openside. Of the two I think Mumm would probably suit eight better as he is more dynamic while Fardy is brutally physical.
Picking Mumm would be similar to picking McCalman and will create a classicly balanced backrow. Will Cheika risk starting Mumm in the backrow?
If Wycliff Palu were fit I think Michael Cheika would have played him at number eight despite his inconsistent form and inability to play a full match simply because of his familiarity with Palu.
In some ways Palu’s injury comes as a blow to Wales as they would have plan for Palu where they may not for McCalman, Mumm or McMahon.
I predict Australia will play in this fifteen.
1. Sio 2. Moore 3. Kepu
4. Douglas 5. Simmons
6. Fardy 8. Pocock 7. McMahon
9. Genia 10. Foley
11. Tomane 12. Giteau 13. Kuridrani 14. Ashley-Cooper
15. Folau (Beale if Folau is out)
I think Michael Cheika will want to keep the two openside balance of his backrow though I think Dean Mumm and Ben McCalman will both make appearances from the bench.
If Mumm is selected to start I believe McMahon and Sam Carter will be bench cover although McCalman can play lock. Who would you choose?