Where To Now For Wallabies Selection?


Who would have thought that the runner-up at the 2015 Rugby World Cup would then go on lose five matches in a row. Since that defeat in October, coach Michael Cheika has had a terrible run of form and of selection continuity. With that evidence. Last Word On Rugby must ask “Where To Now For Wallabies Selection?”

This is not an indication of prolonged failure–only from October 31st up until last weekend. In that time the Australian rugby side [the Wallabies] have faced just two International sides: England and New Zealand. So if you consider their opposition; two of the best sides within World Rugby….it was a difficult task.

Australian Wallabies coach Michael Cheika speaks to the media at Allianz Stadium on April 27, 2016 in Sydney, prior to the 3 match England Series (Getty)

In June, Cheika went with a mix of youth and promise. Based upon a group of the men who performed well at the World Cup tournament, a few new names were selected from the Super Rugby ranks. Positive selection moves, as they did not have all the overseas-based senior players available.

Cheika went into the series with a ‘cock-a-hoop’ attitude, hoping to show how he had drawn together the right group to face England–the side who were the first ever hosts not to reach the qualifying stages at a World Cup. Cheika fed on a perceived lack of confidence he believed the the Northern side would arrive with…..but he was wrong.


In the first series sweep in Australia since the 1977 Lions, England entered the promised land and ‘stole the show’. Coached by Eddie Jones (former Wallabies head coach) they won in fine fashion. They won handsomely, with a gameplan that eluded all Australian defences. It was a tactic that undermined nearly all the value taken away from London by captain Stephen Moore and Cheika.

Any side who has to accept that they have been ‘whitewashed’ will find it hard to swallow. The attitude of the visitors was triumphant, as was the vitriol by print and on social media (see below)

So after that shambles, Super Rugby re-ignited to prove sadly that the game in Australia had regressed. After initial success, only the Brumbies and Waratahs had any chance at the elusive title. New Zealand sides again dominating the standings, but with a new conference system, the Aussies had one secure home quarter final.

While the Brumbies had claimed the most points and coach Stephen Larkham (Wallabies assistant) prepared his team well to meet the challenge, in the end, they were beaten by the 2015 champion Highlanders. It meant no Australian team contested the semi finals. It left the Australian players virtually ‘idle’ until the International season started.

Very nearly One Months Preparation for TRC

Wallabies player depth to select from for The Rugby Championship (TRC) was reinforced by a returning band of ex-European players. Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Gitaeu were free to be selected from. And it was here, to a degree, where Cheika had to make clear-cut decisions on his sides future make-up. With options available, from the outside it was clear he reverted to type, relying heavily on foreign based players–with the same end result.

The inclusion of those men just made more people question both the self-belief and the direction the side has been led in. Having near to a full month of preparation, Cheika assembled a training squad extremely early. This group would be the basis needed to open the TRC against the World Champion All Blacks.

No mean feat, that Kiwi side had beaten Wales 3-0 in June. What Cheika expected by bringing back all his most experienced players, was rightly expected too by local media. They again talked up the sides strengths and caliber. Before the Sydney test, Moore commented that it was favourable [the time taken]. Players joining the group brought experience–but whose places might they be occupying?

Cheika under pressure
Coach Michael Cheika named five foreign-based stars and four uncapped players in a 33-man Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaign (Getty)

Frustration builds with every defeat

At times, repeated failure has shown on both coach and players. Not the expected result, both losses to New Zealand; in Sydney and then in Wellington, were hard to take. As much as on the field, where the inability to match the All Blacks was clear-cut. Moore, and Michael Hooper also had issues with authority, match officials again feeling pressured by the continual questioning of decisions taken against the Wallabies.

Beside the on-field, the coach failed to retain his composure. Footage of him within his coaches box (his working environment) showed him fuming during the course of the game. Sydney was more a combination of injuries, but in Wellington he had made some selection changes, but was still visibly unhappy. A common character flaw after six losses, his frustration is infecting the groups mental state.

Who to select now?
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, captain Stephen Moore and Michael Hooper of the Wallabies talk (Getty)

So where to from now? Brisbane is calling the team to encounter the South African side. They will be fully charged, after the Springboks first ever away loss to Argentina. It will be another huge test and another selection tipping point.

Which players will Cheika call on?

33 fit players must be chosen for the third TRC match, with the follow-up clash with Argentina in Perth a week later. This crucial stage will test both the teams chances to defend their TRC title, and the future direction the side takes.

Winning must be primary, but the men who make up the squad are just as important. Already, fans are calling for change and this may begin at the top. Moore, who now has a less favourable winning record as captain, must be under pressure to hold his starting position. And within the playing XV, there must be a high level of stress building. For this side to emerge from this dark period, a forward step must be taken by Cheika. And that can be paired with selections policy.

Many within the media have contemplated those names including Chris Duffy. The LWOS Australian-based reporter see’s a handful of Super Rugby players as key to that change.

Where To Now For Wallabies Selection?

Poor performances in the June Test Series and continued disappointment at Super Rugby level aside, despite this there was some stand out players who emerged through the hard times. Andrew Kellaway: Australian U20’s captain impressed this year after getting his chance. Kellaway took his chance star names but the use of the ‘Giteau Law’ by Cheika meant that he moved way down the Wallabies pecking list. A place in the outer squad at the least is deserved for Kellaway, as his try scoring ability has been proven in the NRC.

Jed Holloway: unfortunately injury robbed Holloway of any chance to be part of the Wallabies set up this year. A dynamic ball carrying loose forward or lock, when fit his ability to break the line is much needed, as would be Sean McMahon.

In June, McMahon took up a place in the back row after an injury to David Pocock. His physicality was something glaring missing from the two Bledisloe Cup tests. The introduction of Ben McCalman in Sydney and the reuniting of Scott Fardy with Pocock and Hooper in Wellington failed to revitalize the Wallabies pack. McMahon should be given the opportunity that his Super Rugby season form deserves.

Credit given for the future

Reece Hodge- one man who could hold his head high after the match in Wellington. The utility back was called upon after an injury crisis in the back line and slotted straight in and did not look over awed by the occasion. His boot alone is a weapon so glaringly missing in Australia’s recent test losses, as Bernard Foley has struggled from the tee. He deserves a chance to start against South Africa.

Reece Hodge
Reece Hodge of the Rebels breaks through for a try during the round 14 Super Rugby match (Getty)

Sione Tuipulotu– he burst onto the scene early in the season, as the Rebels had an injury crisis to match the current Wallabies one. At that time he took it in his stride. With Cheika being short on centres, Tuipulotu should at least be joining the next training camp to add to his already impressive rise through the ranks.

Josh Mann-Rea will also be on the cusp of starting for the Wallabies. While not the time to experiment, his bulk around the field would be an asset if his throwing can be perfected. Moore must be challenged, if the 100+ test hooker is to continue to start. Aidan Toua and James Dargaville could also have a future in Gold.

Luke Burton maybe an option, where the versatile inside back can play both flyhalf and inside centre. Not as errant as Quade Cooper, he shows a tremendous work ethic and Cheika needs men who can understand his vision, and work towards driving the team in the right direction.

Note: Players released to play in Europe include Liam Gill and Greg Holmes

Many options to choose from

Many more could be named here but the acid test is on the Wallabies selection panel today to make the calls sooner, rather than later. If the ‘sky opens up’ and a seventh straight loss occurs this Saturday, then an axe will begin to be sharpened. Cheika has lost some of the luster he brought to the role, and like Ewen McKenzie, he could as easily be seen to have short comings that Australian Rugby can well not afford.

No doubt, the Wallabies are very capable and very able to win in Brisbane. But then they face a flamboyant Pumas side. With more pride than championship ambitions, the Argentinians will take much pleasure in heading home with a scalp along the way–they would prefer a Kiwi pelt, but a marsupial fur would do just as nicely.

For Michael Cheika, it is do or die. Many in the media will say that ‘nice guys finish last’ but for the aggressive Cheika, his doubters are becoming more vocal as Wallabies selection issues heat up. How he performs personally will be as important now, as much as how the team goes out on the pitch come Saturday.

“Main photo credit”