The Chip And Chase - Ignoring The All Blacks

The Chip

The All Blacks won, hoorah.

Lord Ritchie, may we all bow down.

Ma'a Nonu > Sonny Bill Williams.

The Chase

One thing that I harped on about leading into last week's Bledisloe Cup fixture in Auckland, was then backed up by our silly kiwi media in the aftermath of that game. It's the kiwi way to only focus on the All Blacks and we saw that in spades as the kiwi media took a bit of joy in the performance of the Wallabies and then preceded to debate All Blacks World Cup selections.

They discussed All Blacks selections, as if the All Blacks are the only team in world rugby who are trying to figure out their World Cup squad, let alone who then forms the best 22-man squad for that team. The only reason Michael Cheika re-jigged his Wallabies team for the game at Eden Park was to get another opportunity to see who can do what and where certain players fit into Cheika's World Cup plans. 

The All Blacks have the luxury of allowing a group of players to play ITM Cup rugby before naming their squad and so Shag is now able to sit back and see whether someone like Charlie Faumuina can work his way into the frame. The Wallabies don't have that luxury as their National Rugby Championship is about to start it's first season, ever and I'm sure we all know that there would we a bit of a difference between playing ITM Cup and NRC rugby in Australia. I say that because Cheika can't rely on a domestic competition to see whether players are up to par or not, he had to throw them to the sharks against the All Blacks, at Eden Park, in Ritchie's milestone game. 

Do I believe that the Wallabies would have won had they picked a 'full strength side? Hell no, that's what makes the All Blacks the All Blacks because they rarely have back to back losses. I have however seen a complete disregard from kiwi media of the Wallabies' circumstances and context for their selections, I have saw a few dummies saying Cheika and the Wallabies choked. 

I mean, can you tell me a the Wallabies best starting 15?

Who plays first-five? 

Bernard Foley was average in Sydney against the All Blacks. 

Quade Cooper didn't take his chances against South Africa or the All Blacks in Auckland.

Matt Toomua's a very good second-five and so is Matt Giteau. Do you play Giteau at first-five and Toomua outside him? Possibly, I like that but Toomua has looked great coming off the bench and his impact against the All Blacks in Sydney was a highlight for the Wallabies.

Who's ya halfback?

Will Genia is still injured which has made things extremely complex for the Wallabies because Nick Phibbs was average to poor in Sydney and Nic White simply doesn't look like a starter. A impact player/'finisher sure but I'm not sold on him as a starter. 

Will the 'fetchers' play every World Cup game?

The David Pocock/Michael Hooper combination worked a treat in Sydney, but Cheika needs to suss out a plan B because I doubt they will roll out Pocock/Hooper in every World Cup game. Scott Fardy looks like a certified starter either as a flanker or as an eight, while Wycliff Palu and Scott Higginbotham are also in the mix.  

That's five blokes trying to get three spots and while we know what the best combination is, I think it would be foolish of Cheika to show everyone how the Pocock/Hooper combination works. I reckon for the big games we will see Pocock/Hooper/Fardy and in other games we'll see one of these three rested and kept fresh.

Lock stocks?

There's also a few tough decisions to make with regards to the locks. Will Skelton will likely be a starter in a best-15, but it remains unclear who will partner Skelton with James Horwill, Kane Douglas and Dean Mumm all fighting for that starting spot. There will probably be a locking spot on the bench, so Cheika's got to suss out who fits that 'finisher' role the best and I wouldn't be surprised if Cheika keeps Skelton on the bench as he's a great player to bring on around the 50 minute mark. 

Israel Folau's a lock, but who joins him in the back three?

Adam Ashley-Cooper also looks to have a starting spot nailed, but we have seen Joe Tomane, Henry Speight and Drew Mitchell all used as well. None of those three wingers have really stood up and demanded selection in a best-15, so it will be interesting to see which way Cheika goes here. 

Cheika can afford to only take three wingers and I'd say that Tomane will be the man to miss out as there's a variety of players who can step in and play on the wing if need be.

I haven't even mentioned Kurtley Beale or James O'Connor.

Beale has solely come off the bench for the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship, which points to him having that niche role sussed. Cheika could have wanted to see what Beale can do at first-five or in the midfield, but as he's been on the bench a whole lot, I believe that that is where Cheika sees Beale fitting in. Beale can cover a range of positions which makes him the perfect player to come off the bench and I think we can expect to see Beale give Israel Folau a break at some stage.

Who's that James O'Connor guy? He hasn't been seen in the RC, but hey, he could snake his way into the World Cup squad as an x-factor gamble.

As you can see, it's incredibly complex for the Wallabies and running through their playing group at the moment, the only certain starters in a best-22 would be Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, Hooper, Pocock, Fardy, Folau, Ashley-Cooper and Tevita Kurindrani. 

We will see what Cheika's thinking as the Wallabies will name their World Cup squad later this week, but I think that will be the easy part. The hard part will be come World Cup time when Cheika has to settle on his best 22-man squad to win big games. Luckily the first two games will allow for some tinkering and tough contests to test a few combinations as they face Fiji and Uruguay before playing England. 

But first, we're waiting for Wallabies World Cup squad.

Let's take a trip around the rugby world shall we?