Health Cheik gamble
WALLABIES coach Michael Cheika admits entering the World Cup without a safety net at hooker is risky but he is confident in their plans to cover an emergency.
Cheika (pictured) yesterday pulled off the covers on his final 31-man squad to play in the World Cup, starting next month, and the big talking point was the coach’s gamble in the specialist positions.
Instead of a safe selection of three hookers and three halfbacks, Cheika named just Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau in the front row, and Nick Phipps and Will Genia at the scrumbase.
The extra spots were used for a winger and backrower but the cost will be a white-knuckled ride for the Wallabies, whose halfbacks and hookers will have to play in all their World Cup matches.
A game-day injury or sickness would see Matt Giteau cover halfback or a Wallaby prop play back-up hooker, potentially throwing in lineouts against England or Wales.
None of the five Wallabies props have any professional experience at hooker.
“I suppose you could always say there is a bit of a risk but we feel we have enough back-up that can cover in a short-term situation, and we feel like we have excellent cover outside of the squad there in both James Hanson and Nic White in case we do get an injury,” Cheika said.
World Cup gambles can spectacularly backfire, as Robbie Deans found out in 2011. When his sole No.7 David Pocock was injured, Ben McCalman had to play his first game ever at open side against Ireland and Australia crashed to defeat.
The big concern for the Wallabies in 2015 may arise if Moore or Polota-Nau suffer an injury or head knock requiring a week or two on the sidelines.
Injured players can only be permanently replaced so the Wallabies would potentially have to face the prospect of sending their captain home for a rolled ankle – and even then still only have two hookers.
The World Cup rules state injured players, after August 31, can only be replaced within a squad with clearance by the tournament medical director and the tournament director.
Replacement players are also vetted by tournament officials, so whether an outside back with a niggle could be sent home to bring in a third hooker is uncertain. The rules state for a non-injured player to be replaced, written approval is required from the tournament director.
Polota-Nau, who has a history of head knocks, said entering the tournament without a third No.2 in the ranks wouldn’t change his intensity levels in training or in-game.
“There is obviously that cloud, and it’s there with the halfbacks as well,” he said.
“But we all have the confidence we can go out there and do the job. Effort is never a question, it is about executing.”
Queensland lock James Horwill was among the highprofile omissions, along with White, Nick Cummins and Scott Higginbotham. JAMES Horwill has done the business at the highest level and can feel he has copped a tough Rugby World Cup call, missing out to a far less experienced lock.
Both Horwill and Kane Douglas are grinders but the big difference is the latter has no irresistible case from his 15 Tests to say he knows all the in and outs of top Test rugby.
I think Michael Cheika, as coach, trusts his NSW Waratahs boys in tight calls, which is normal, and it would have been part of the tiebreaker on Horwill.
There is only one question for this World Cup squad of Wallabies … is the forward pack good enough to beat England and Wales?
The front row, marshalled by the impressive Stephen Moore, has improved generally but consistency in the scrum is a major problem.
Dean Mumm gets his lock spot due to his ability to organise a lineout and be a backup to Scott Fardy at blindside flanker.
The lineout is a real issue with Fardy, Mumm and Rob Simmons having to devise ways to win the ball effectively against the tall Poms and Welsh.
The back row is strong but halfback worries me greatly.
Cheika has gambled on Will Genia returning to full fitness and form.
If he does the Wallabies will be in a good position.
Nick Phipps is not Test class at halfback with his poor pass and I would have selected Nic White, with a superior service, as my second No.9.
Cheika has done a good job with his 31 names.