The All Blacks squad we announced this weekend, but who cares.
Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Greg Holmes, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Toby Smith, Kane Douglas, Dean Mumm, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Will Genia, Nick Phipps, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Henry Speight, Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani.
Michael Cheika named his Wallabies World Cup squad late last week with notable omissions being Nic White and James Horwill. Toby Smith and Sean McMahon have been included in the squad despite not featuring in the Rugby Championship and the 17 forwards - 14 backs split suggests that Cheika has taken a few risks in the backs.
Will Genia and Nick Phibbs have been named as the two halfbacks with Genia still posted under an injury cloud while Phibbs didn't set the world on fire in the opportunities he was given. Things are equally as interesting/risky at first-five with Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley named, but neither of them really stood out as making a compelling case for the starting jersey. Quade can step though...
Matt Giteau does cover pretty much all the backline positions which gives Cheika the opportunity to bolster his back-row group. This means that McMahon got the nod and that the Wallabies now have plenty of depth in the back-row which will be needed as I can't see David Pocok and Michael Hooper combining to play every game together. McMahon might not see a minute of action at the World Cup, but the fact that he has earned selection for the World Cup by bringing a wealth of energy and enthusiasm at training is a positive.
One surprise was the selection of only two hookers, but with Stephen Moore named as skipper you would imagine that he would be a locked-in selection every game. Disaster would need to strike both Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau for this gamble to fail andI think it's a gamble that Cheika should take.
The non-selection of Horwill is interesting but he appears to be a victim of a poor lineout against the All Blacks in which Horwill didn't demand selection. I don't mind it as I see Rob Simmons and Will Skelton being a fairly decent locking pair, while Kane Douglas and Dean Mumm are also very capable. Scott Fardy should feature as a starter for the Wallabies more often than not - whether he plays No.8 or as a flanker depends on the Pocock/Hooper situation - which gives the Wallabies another lineout target.
There's going to be intense competition for the starting wing positions with Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Joe Tomane and Henry Speight all named. This is where the Wallabies appear to have the most depth which is vastly different to the predicament at halfback and first-five as they plenty of options to replace Israel Folau should he get injured/need a rest, they have blokes competing to start on the wings and their midfield is stacked with quality as well.
Matt Giteau and Tevita Kurindrani should be the starters, but Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua will keep pressure on them while offering plenty of attacking impetus off the bench as well.
Uini Atonio, Eddy Ben Arous, Vincent Debaty, Nicolas Mas, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado, Benjamin Kayser, Dimitri Szarzewski, Alexandre Flanquart, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Papé, Thierry Dusautoir (c), Bernard Le Roux, Yannick Nyanga, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Damien Chouly, Louis Picamoles, Rory Kockott, Morgan Parra, Sébastien Tillous-Borde, Frédéric Michalak, Rémi Tales, Mathieu Bastareaud, Alexandre Dumoulin, Gaël Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Brice Dulin, Sofiane Guitoune, Yoann Huget, Noa Nakaitaci, Scott Spedding.
French coach Phillipe Saint-Andre has named his squad with the most notable selection being that of Frédéric Michalak who scored 17 points in France's win over England last weekend. This will be Michalak's third World Cup and along with halfback Morgan Parra and Rory Kockott offers plenty of goal-kicking nous.
Saint-Andre has also opted for the 17-14 split but has only selected three locks and has selected three hookers where Cheika only selected two.
The possible midfield combination of Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana is one that I'm eager to see in action as they are both strong ball runners. Scott Spedding featured at fullback in both of France's games against England and at this early stage, I'm excited about the prospect of what could be a potent French backline playing off the back of a strong forward pack. Especially in European conditions.
Also in France's group is Italy...
Matias Aguero, Martin Castrogiovanni, Dario Chistolini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Michele Rizzo, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Davide Giazzon, Andrea Manici, Valerio Bernabo, Joshua Furno, Marco Fuser, Quintin Geldenhuys, Mauro Bergamasco, Francesco Minto, Sergio Parisse (c), Samuela Vunisa, Alessandro Zanni, Edoardo Gori, Guglielmo Palazzani, Marcello Violi, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Tommaso Benvenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Angelo Esposito, Gonzalo Garcia, Andrea Masi, Luke McLean, Luca Morisi, Leonardo Sarto, Giovanbattista Venditti
Well, like you, I don't know much about Italy which is what makes this so exciting as a World Cup offers us the chance to see the best of the countries that we rarely watch. Two names that are worthy of note are Tommaso Allan and Samuela Vunisa. Allan is a former Scotland Under 20 first-five who switched things up to play for Italy and looks like their best option in the position despite the Italians losing all the Tests that Allan has started.
Vunisa earned Man Of The Match honours for Italy in their recent loss to Scotland and he has been snapped up by English club Saracens as well. He's a big lump of a lad who plays at the back of the scrum.
And for the record, here's some more squads...
Lee Roy Atalifo, Isei Colati, Campese Ma’afu, Peni Ravai, Manasa Saulo, Sunia Koto (vc), Tuapati Talemaitoga, Viliame Veikoso, Tevita Cavubati, Leone Nakarawa, Api Ratuniyarawa, Nemia Soqeta, Sakiusa Masi Matadigo, Akapusi Qera (c), Malakai Ravulo, Netani Talei, Dom Waqaniburotu, Peceli Yato, Nemia Kenatale, Nikola Matawalu, Henry Seniloli, Lepani Botia, Gabiriele Lovobalavu, Joshua Matavesi, Ben Volavola, Vereniki Goneva (vc), Kini Murimurivalu, Nemani Nadolo, Waisea Nayacalevu, Metuisela Talebula, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Tevita Mailau (Perpignan), Alisona Taumalolo (Grenoble), Soane Tonga’uiha (Oyonnax), Halani Aulika (London Irish), Sila Puafisi (Gloucester), Elvis Taione (Exeter Chiefs), Paula Ngauamo (Mont de Marsan), Aleki Lutui (Ampthill RFC), Tukulua Lokotui (Beziers), Joeseph Tuineau (Dax), Steve Mafi (Western Force), Opeti Fonua (Leicester Tigers), Hale T-Pole (Otago), Nili Latu (Newcastle Falcons), Jack Ram (Auckland Blues), Viliami Ma’afu (Oyonnax), Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester), Sonatane Takulua (Newcastle Falcons), Samisoni Fisilau (Jersey RFC), Sosefo Ma’ake (Havelu Bulldogs), Kurt Morath (Biarritz), Latiume Fosita (Doncaster), Sione Piukala (Perpignan), Siale Piutau (Yamaha), Viliami Tahitu’a (Northland), Fetu’u Vainikolo (Oyonnax), Telusa Veainu (Melbourne Rebels), Tevita Halaifonua (Gloucester), William Helu (Edinburgh), Vungakoto Lilo (Montauban)
Viliamu Afatia, Jake Grey, Logovii Mulipola, Anthony Perenise, Sakaria Taulafo, Wayne Ole Avei, Manu Leiataua, Motu Matu'u, Faatiga Lemalu, Filo Paulo, Kane Thompson, Joe Tekori, Maurie Faasavalu, Alafoti Faosiliva, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam, Vavae Tuilagi, Ofisa Treviranus (Captain), Vavao Afemai, Kahn Fotuali'i, Patrick Faapale, Tusiata Pisi, Mike Stanley, Rey Lee Lo, Johnny Leota, George Pisi, Paul Perez, Faatoina Autagavaia, Ken Pisi, Tim Nanai Williams, Alesana Tuilagi