With club rugby over for another season, the thoughts of many fans have been turning towards the upcoming World Cup and the squads that their teams will be selecting. However, for the teams of the Rugby Championship, their focus has had to be initially on a shortened version of their annual tournament.
Australia were not in a good place in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, but Michael Cheika’s appointment a year before the tournament righted the ship and saw them make it out of a strong group to finish as losing finalists. Now, Australia are in a bad spot again with just 4 Test victories in 2018, while they have also lost one of their star players in Israel Folau after his social media outbursts. A huge win over New Zealand in the Rugby Championship suggested some light at the end of the tunnel, but questions remain after they were held scoreless at Eden Park a week later. In a pool containing Wales, Fiji and Georgia, they will need to get the selections right if they want to avoid embarrassment in the tournament.
As I have done with a number of other nations, I will be continuing my “Journey to RWC2019” series one final squad prediction: the Wallabies. With the Rugby Championship being so close to the World Cup, I am using the squads they have picked for this tournament as the basis for my squads, but I have also looked at some notable names who have not been selected to this point. To remind you, this is not the squad that I would pick, but instead the squad that I think Michael Cheika will take.
Journey to RWC2019 series:
- Predicting the Wales squad
- Predicting the Scotland squad
- Predicting the Italy squad
- Predicting the Ireland squad
- Predicting the Fiji squad
- Predicting the England squad
- Predicting the USA squad
- Predicting the Argentina squad
- Predicting the South Africa squad
- Predicting the New Zealand squad
So without further ado, I predict that Australia’s 31-man squad for the World Cup will be:
Folau Fainga’a had a huge season for the Brumbies, finishing with 12 Super Rugby tries (3rd most in the tournament). Tolu Latu has been a regular of late, but off field issues may hamper him here. I think that he will still make the squad, especially following his performance against New Zealand, provided that there are no further issues, but I also expect them to take Tatafu Polota-Nau, who may not have had the best of seasons with Leicester but brings a lot of experience to the squad, making it in ahead of Jordan Uelese, who has had limited chances in the national team.
Scott Sio has been a regular starter for the Wallabies of late, so will make the plane, while the other 3 regulars in the 23 have been Sekope Kepu, Allan Alaalatoa and the “Tongan Thor” himself, Taniela Tupou. Though there is already plenty of caps in this group, I think that the Wallabies’ recent struggles will see them look to another experienced operator for the final spot, which will lead to a spot on the plane for James Slipper, who had a strong Rugby Championship.
So to start with, let me make it very clear: If Will Skelton suddenly returns to Australia, then he makes the squad as he has probably been in the best form of his career this season with Saracens. However as a return has only been rumoured, I will be basing this on the idea that he is not eligible. Adam Coleman and Izack Rodda have been regular starters, while Rob Simmonds has also been a regular in the 23. Rory Arnold takes the final spot, but he needs to hope that Will Skelton doesn’t get himself a contract back in Australia.
Ned Hanigan’s omission from the Rugby Championship squad appears to suggest that he has dropped down the pecking order, despite his ability to also cover at lock. As captain, Michael Hooper is an obvious pick, as is the best 7 in the world, David Pocock, provided he recovers from injury in time. Pete Samu had a strong season for the Brumbies and will surely make the squad if he can recover from the injury that saw him come off at halftime in their Super Rugby quarterfinal. Jack Dempsey appeared to be the incumbent in the 6 jersey but appears to have dropped down the pecking order. Instead, it looks like Isi Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will be on the flight to Japan as they have made a strong trio with Hooper in Pocock’s absence. Should Pocock or Samu fail to recover in time for the tournament, I think that Reds jackal Liam Wright and Luke Jones (who is listed among the locks but was a regular on the bench in the back row position during the Rugby Championship) will come in to replace their respective stars.
Such has been the Wallabies’ reliance on Will Genia, there is no way he doesn’t travel if he is not fit. Given how little time on the pitch any other scrum halves have been given in the national team over recent years, I think that Cheika will only take one other specialist at the position. Nick Phipps has usually been the go-to backup of late, but his omission from the Rugby Championship squad suggests that he is out of the reckoning. Joe Powell has been the other Australian-based option and benefits from a strong season for the Brumbies, however I think that his kicking game is questionable and could lead to him missing out on the biggest stage this time around. Instead, I think that Nic White’s return to his homeland and regular appearances in the Rugby Championship have secured his place in the squad, as he has a strong tactical kicking game and has spent recent season playing in a very successful Exeter side.
After a strong start to the season, things went downhill for Quade Cooper and his omission from the Rugby Championship squad and the subsequent announcement of his upcoming move to Japan means that we have likely seen the end of his international career. Bernard Foley has been the go-to at 10 for much of the current World Cup cycle so is certain to travel, while it looks like he may have lost the starting spot at the eleventh hour to the Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano, who has made a great return to the squad.
The Wallabies have usually taken 4 centres to recent tournaments, but due to the versatility of some players, I think that they will take 5 in this squad. Samu Kerevi was one of the stars of this season’s Super Rugby and has carried his form into the Test matches, while Tevita Kuridrani brings experience and will be a good backup to him. Kurtley Beale’s versatility (being able to cover 10, 12, 13 and 15) will see him in the squad, along with Matt To’omua, who again provides cover at fly half. James O’Connor has revitalised his career with Sale and has likely earned himself the 13 shirt following a great return to the Wallabies starting XV in their win over New Zealand, despite a quieter performance a week later.
Dane Haylett-Petty, Marika Koroibete and Reece Hodge have all been regulars in recent squads, so I expect them to all travel despite Haylett-Petty appearing to have dropped down the pecking order. Beyond that, Folau’s sacking makes things very interesting for the final positions. Adam Ashley-Cooper is highly experienced and versatile, and his inclusion at Eden Park makes me think that he will earn a spot in the squad alongside Tom Banks (2nd in Super Rugby this season for carries and metres carried, 9th for defenders beaten), meaning that Jack Maddocks, (10 tries was the joint-5th highest in this season of Super Rugby) just misses out.
Who do you think will make it to Japan?
As we get close to RWC2019, I will be running a fantasy rugby league on the rugby magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6