Michael Cheika has a few matches prior to the World Cup to make decisions on combinations and with a side packed with footballers, this article looks at a few of the key areas he needs to asses in order to strike the balance between skill and power.
In the match last weekend, Australia selected a 9 and 10 combination of Will Genia (potentially French bound) and Quade Cooper. Outside Cooper at 12, was Toulon's Matt Giteau, a player returned from the wilderness to international rugby. All very talented footballers, but did this work?
It would be unfair to come to a conclusion after only one match back, but the signs suggest the game management was lacking, and the play was too lateral, allowing opposition back row and inside backs to push up and out, just waiting for Tevita Kuridrani to be brought on a short pop pass.
When you look at the strength Australia have available in the backs, they have numerous players who can play equally well in more than one position. Player such as Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Israel Folau, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, Drew Mitchell and Christian Lealiifano; excellent footballers all. However, this only goes so far, they need combinations to work, players who can make hard yards, do the basics well, game manage etc. Will Quade Cooper get Australia playing in the right positions of the pitch in a tight, tense match in the rain on an October day in England? Not convinced myself.
The Australian forwards have long been seen as an achilles heel for Australia, especially the front five. There were concerns last weekend with the scrum, and they have brought in ex Puma, Mario Ledesma to try to resolve some of these issues, a man from a country renowned for their scrummaging prowess. In terms of the scrum last weekend, there were some they struggled at, but I would state the South African scrum is one of the best in the world. Yes Australia need to improve, but despite a few scrums against South Africa where they buckled, I would not jump to the conclusion that their scrum is weak.
I believe their second row needs a bit of bite, Will Skelton will be a world star in the second row, but is still learning, and needs to work on his fitness. Alongide him, I would like to see someone with a bit of an edge, and for me that is not Rob Simmons. In the back row, again some big decisions to make, they seem to have decided on Scott Fardy at 6, who has a big workrate and a good line out option, but at 8, they have tried a number of players and have not seemed to have settled at one. The current option is Scott Higginbotham, but the jury is still out on whether he is international calibre in that position. At 7 they have two fantastic players in Michael Hooper and David Pocock. At moment they seem to be leaning towards Hooper, which I understand as his defence and his ability to ball carry is stronger than Pocock, but with Pocock you have one of the best exponents of being able to turn the ball over, as the "jackal" in the game, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.
In closing, Australia still have matches to work out combinations, but they need to start settling on these as soon as possible. When they get it right, and forwards are a match for their opposition, they can be a joy to watch, and with backs such as Kuridrani and Folau out wide you have to give them the ball, and with any space one on one watch out.
For what it is worth, this would be my match day squad for the World Cup as I see it now (brave or what) ;)
15. Israel Folau
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
13. Tevita Kuridrani
12. Matt Toomua
11. Taqele Naiyaravoro
10. Bernard Foley
9. Will Genia
1. James Slipper
2. Stephen Moore
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Will Skelton
5. James Horwill
6. Scott Fardy
8. Wycliff Palu
7. Michael Hooper
Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Nick Phipps, Scott Sio, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Greg Holmes, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock