Australian coach Ewen McKenzie has named his 32-man squad for the upcoming Rugby Championship. There are few surprises in the team, but there are nevertheless a couple of talking points ahead of their clashes with Rugby superpowers New Zealand and South Africa, along with plucky Argentina.
Blockbusting Brumbies winger Harry Speight is the only uncapped player in the squad, despite not being available to play for the Wallabies for the first half of the Championship due to the IRB’s residency-based eligibility requirements. But the Fijian powerhouse seems the natural successor for the spot on the flank vacated by incumbent Nick ‘The Honey Badger’ Cummins, who sought a compassionate release to take up a deal in Japanese Rugby.
The make-up of the Wallabies’ first-choice 15 is far from assured. It will be intriguing to see if McKenzie utilises in-form utility back Kurtley Beale in the starting side – after exclusively coming off the bench against France – in an attempt to ward off the pursuit of NRL club the Canterbury Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, the undeniable claims of lock tyros Sam Carter and Will Skelton – both superb when blooded during the French series – will be juxtaposed against the experience of Reds stalwart and former Test skipper James Horwill.
Reds scrum-base duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper are still on the injured list.
Unsurprisingly, the squad is dominated by players from the two Australian teams to reach the Super XV finals, with 11 players from each of the NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies named. The Western Force and Queensland Reds contribute four players each, the Melbourne Rebels just two. Incredibly, Rebels No.9 Luke Burgess is the only back named that does not play for NSW or ACT.
Whether this promising, rebuilding side has the chops to compete with the might of the All Blacks and Springboks remains to be seen, but with the likes of Michael Hooper and Israel Folau in top form, and the emerging talents of Bernard Foley, Skelton and Speight set to make their imprint against the world’s best, it shapes as the Australian side’s most exciting campaign in years.
The Wallabies begin their journey on August 16 against New Zealand at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, before a return clash with the All Blacks at bogey venue Eden Park. They then host South Africa and Argentina in Perth and on the Gold Coast respectively, before embarking on their arduous away leg on the Championship against the Springboks and Pumas.
WALLABIES SQUAD FOR 2014 RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Michael Hooper (c)
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