There were few positives to come out of Queensland’s horrendous Super Rugby campaign but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has found one, plucking out the Reds’ front row for his 40-man Rugby Championship squad.
Reds captain James Slipper, fellow prop Greg Holmes and hooker James Hanson – who has signed for the Melbourne Rebels in 2016 – are among the big winners from Cheika’s front-row shake-up, which saw veteran bookends Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander dumped in a bid to regenerate the Australian scrum.
The other props named were the uncapped Toby Smith (Rebels), Scott Sio (Brumbies), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs) and Tetera Faulkner (Force), while Stephen Moore (Brumbies) and Tatafu Polota-Nau (Brumbies) make up the hooking contingent.
Cheika has spoken repeatedly of his desire for Australia to draw upon Queensland’s excellent scrummaging efforts this season, having admired them from afar while steering the Waratahs.
In doing so, he has ended an eight-year Wallabies exile for Holmes, with this his first call-up since playing against Canada in 2007.
The 32-year-old is in career-best form but admitted he never knew if he would ever get the chance to add to his 13 caps.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” he said.
“I’m getting a little bit older now and as the years roll on, young guys are always going to come through.
“Personally I had a pretty good year. The scrum went quite well and this is one of the rewards.
“To get selected in this is something I’ve been trying to do for a number of years now so I’m pretty happy about it.”
Holmes said he liked the look of the front-row stocks selected by Cheika, but admitted it is “hard to say” how Australia will fare against the calibre of teams that await on the road to the Rugby Championship and beyond to the World Cup.
“You never really know until you come up against those guys,” he said.
“(But if you) just compare it to the Super Rugby standard – the Australian scrum’s been going pretty well against the Africans and Kiwis,
“I think we’ll go quite well.”